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400px-WST-8-F.jpg White Star Britannic Poster


  • 1 Introduction
  • 2 The lingering demise of White Star
  • 3 The collapse of the post war shipping boom
  • 4 The elevation of Pirrie and Philipps
  • 5 The Trade Facilities Act and the Northern Ireland Loans Guarantee Act
  • 6 Pirrie-Kylsant Motor Ships
  • 7 US Immigration Restrictions on transatlantic migration
  • 8 Another Olympic collision
  • 9 The Death of Viscount Pirrie
  • 10 Kylsant obliged to take control of Harland & Wolff
  • 11 IMM Consolidation
  • 12 White Star Orders
  • 13 Purchase of Oceanic Steam Navigation Company - White Star
  • 14 White Star Line Ltd
  • 15 The wreck of Celtic
  • 16 The Last White Star Liners
  • 17 Collapse and Bankruptcy
  • 18 The end of White Star
  • 19 The Political Survival of Harland and Wolff
  • 20 Bibliography
  • 21 Photographs

To the general public Titanic is possibly the most famous passenger liner ever built; largely because of the considerable loss of life that arose when she sank on her maiden voyage and the resultant media hype; then and ever since. If that tragedy had not happened, she would only have had fleeting fame and her name would be generally unknown today. Interestingly there have been other peacetime passenger ship disasters with greater loss of life that are unknown to the general public. The centenary of the tragedy has generated considerable interest in the Titanic story. Perhaps it is inevitable that there has also been a great deal of romance and fantasy surrounding the disaster. The aim of these Articles is to provide a factual account of why she was built; what she was; what happened on her maiden voyage, the aftermath of the tragedy and what happened to her two sister ships. This Part continues the history through to the final collapse of White Star.

For practical and technical reasons, the Articles are presented in the following parts: -

  • Part 1. The establishment of White Star and Harland & Wolff
  • Part 2. International Mercantile Marine Company
  • Part 3. Olympic
  • Part 4. Titanic
  • Part 5. The immediate aftermath of the Titanic disaster
  • Part 6. Britannic
  • Part 7. The turmoil of war
  • Part 8: The lingering demise of White Star


  1. In these Articles the term Gross Registered Tonnage - usually abbreviated to GRT, or merely tons - is used to define the size of a ship. This term had no connection with weight. It was a measurement based upon a survey of the total internal watertight volume of a vessel, with 1 gross registered ton being equal to 100 cubic feet. The calculation was complex and subject to manipulation, with increases sometimes being engineered for prestige reasons and (more frequently) decreases being made to reduce harbour dues, pilotage charges, etc.
  2. White Star: For the greater part of the existence of the Line, White Star was merely the trading name of Oceanic Steam Navigation Company. To avoid confusion White Star is used in all respects in this Article.

The lingering demise of White Star[edit]

The collapse of the post war shipping boom[edit]

In June 1920, H&W completed the conversion of Olympic from its wartime troopship role, back to its transatlantic splendour. To Pirrie's great disappointment, at the ceremonial dinner to mark the occasion, the president of IMM announced that the deteriorating world trading conditions dictated that White Star could not proceed with the planned construction of a liner to replace her sister Britannic, which had been lost during the war.

At the H&W annual shareholders meeting the following month Pirrie announced that all of the Company's shipyards were fully occupied and that it had 90 vessels on order. He did not mention that there were no inquiries for further contracts. The post war shipping boom had come to a sudden end. Freight rates and the price of second-hand tonnage collapsed so dramatically that the H&W Commission Club arrangements were unable to provide their normal insulation from such problems. In the next few months H&W clients delayed the commencement of work on 10 liners and 2 were cancelled outright. Pirrie was forced to move from breakneck expansion to retrenchment. He ordered closure of building berths in Belfast, Govan and Greenock. Overtime was cut, war bonuses withdrawn, wages cut, staff and workforce laid off

The elevation of Pirrie and Philipps[edit]

Philipps and Pirrie had both been loyal supporters of the Liberal Party but neither had anything in common with the growing number of Liberals who supported nationalisation and state intervention in industry. Pirrie had originally been a supporter of Home Rule for Ireland but in the face of British political blunders; increasing Irish division and violence, he changed his allegiance to the Unionist Party. In 1920 the British Government enacted legislation that partitioned Ireland and in 1921 the Northern Irish Parliament was established, with Pirrie as one of its senators. He was made Viscount Pirrie in the same year, for his wartime work and for his services in helping to establish the Northern Irish Parliament. Philipps became the Unionist MP for Chester in 1916 and held the seat until 1922. In 1923 he was elevated to the peerage as Baron Kylsant, of Carmarthen and Amroth.


Photo 1: Lord and Lady Pirrie. He is wearing the uniform of an Irish Privy Councillor

The Trade Facilities Act and the Northern Ireland Loans Guarantee Act[edit]

The British economy fell progressively further into recession during the second half of 1921, prompting Lloyd George to act in October of that year by introducing a package of measures, the most important of which was the Trade Facilities Act (TFA). This was a guarantee facility that offered a total of £25 million Government backing for bank loans provided to finance capital expenditure in the British engineering and shipbuilding industries during 1922/23. Although the Act did not cover Ulster, a separate Northern Ireland Loans Guarantee Act was passed in 1922.

In a typically flamboyant gesture, Pirrie immediately applied for £1,000,000 assistance for the proposed H&W London repair establishment and £293,345 for capital work for the Clyde facilities. These guarantees were approved, as the first to be sanctioned under the scheme, but they provided little practical support to the shipyards.

The greatest help came in November 1922 when the Conservative Party regained power in Westminster. The outgoing Liberal Government had refused to advance TFA guarantees for investment in ships. The Conservatives realised that ship orders were essential to enable the shipping and shipbuilding industries to survive.

Pirrie-Kylsant Motor Ships[edit]

H&W needed a large volume of orders to occupy its massive building facilities. The primary lifeline for H&W came from series of diesel powered passenger liners for the Kylsant group. These orders became entirely dependent upon Government TFA guaranteed loans, some were not required by the shipping companies, but were merely ordered to provide work to H&W. Negotiating these loans however, was a painfully slow bureaucratic process.

With Pirrie's strange aversion to the far more practical geared steam turbine, the liners were fitted with diesel engines that were still in their developmental stage. The engines were expensive to build and maintain. The liners are usually referred to as Pirrie-Kylsant Motor Ships. They were designed by T C Tobin and were fitted with the odd looking trade-mark H&W funnel. This was fat, round, squat, steeply raked, with a horizontal top exactly parallel to the waterline. This gave the ships a somewhat ungainly appearance, but the designer was so pleased with his strange creation that he gave his ships two of them, including a dummy funnel. They also featured a severely square superstructure and steeply raked masts.


Photo 2: Union Castle's Carnarvon Castle, a typical Pirrie/Kylsant Motorship

US Immigration Restrictions on transatlantic migration[edit]

In the USA the resumption of immigration and the widespread unemployment that followed the end of World War I lent strength to an anti-immigration movement in America. The United States Administration expressed concern that the great influx of immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe - especially the large number of Jewish immigrants fleeing persecution in Eastern Europe - was causing unacceptable changes in American culture. This was addressed through the Emergency Quota Act of 1921, which restricted the annual intake of European immigrants to 3% of the US population, as recorded in the 1910 census, segregated original nationality by nationality. No restrictions were placed on Caribbean and Central American immigrants, leading to long term American ethnic population change. The changes reduced the total number of European immigrants from 805,228 in 1920 to 309,556 in 1921-22. The effects of the reduction were mainly felt in the passenger traffic from the Mediterranean, leading White Star to abandon its Mediterranean service.

Restrictions were further tightened by the Immigration Act of 1924, which set the annual quota of any nationality at 2% of the number of foreign-born persons of such nationality resident in the United States in 1890. That revised formula reduced total immigration from 357,803 in 1923-24 to 164,667 in 1924-25. The law's impact varied widely by country; immigration from Great Britain and Ireland fell 19%, while immigration from Italy fell more than 90%.These restrictions had a devastating effect on transatlantic passenger lines.

Another Olympic collision[edit]

In 22 March 1924, Olympic was involved in another collision with a ship, this time at New York. As Olympic was backing from her berth at New York harbour, her stern collided with the Furness Withy liner Fort St George, which had crossed into her path. The collision caused extensive damage to the smaller ship. At first it appeared that Olympic had sustained only minor damage, but it was later revealed that her sternpost had been fractured, necessitating the replacement of her entire stern frame.


Photo 3: Furness Withy's Fort St George

The Death of Viscount Pirrie[edit]

In March 1924 Lord and Lady Pirrie left Britain on a visit to South America. Both had been unwell, but the voyage had such beneficial effect on their health that they extended their tour from Buenos Aires, around Cape Horn to Valparaiso and Antofagasta. While the ship was in this port, Pirrie caught a chill which developed into pneumonia. By the time the ship arrived at Panama, Pirrie was convalescing and he insisted upon being brought up on deck to view the canal. The result was fatal and he died on 7 June 1924, at the age of 78.

Kylsant obliged to take control of Harland & Wolff[edit]

The effects of the death of Pirrie upon H&W were extremely serious. He had made no practical preparations for his succession. His ambition and dictatorial methods had blinded him to the need to create an effective management team. He had promoted weak and ineffectual yes-men to senior positions, who were completely unaware of the Company's serious financial position. Control of the largest shipbuilding concern in the world fell by default to the Company's majority shareholder, Lord Kylsant, who had no shipbuilding knowledge whatsoever.


Photo 4: Lord Kylsant

Lady Pirrie was outraged. She had never liked Kylsant and regarded his seizure of control of H&W as impertinent and presumptuous. She wrongly believed that as a trustee of her husband's estate she automatically had voting control of H&W. In fact she was completely mistaken, as Kylsant's Royal Mail group owned 59% of the voting shares. Nevertheless, she persisted in an embarrassing campaign to try and bring pressure from Pirrie's business friends to remove Kylsant from H&W and appoint Lord Inverforth (the chairman of Andrew Weir) in his place.

Kylsant felt that the settlement of the Pirrie estate was the necessary step to resolve matters. He began to investigate the affairs of both Pirrie and H&W. To his dismay he discovered that both were in a precarious position. Pirrie's magnificent lifestyle had almost reduced him to destitution, with debts of £800,000. (A value of £36,000,000 in 2010) Pirrie's estate had insufficient funds to pay the servants' pensions listed in the will, let alone provide an income to his widow. Kylsant's instinct was to declare the estate bankrupt, but he was dissuaded from this course of action by Lord Inchcape and Lord Inverforth. They dreaded his widow making a nuisance of herself by going the rounds of everyone she knew in London for support. So Pirrie's extensive properties in Britain were sold and all of the companies that were associated with him were persuaded to join together and provide pensions to Lady Pirrie and the staff.


Photo 5: Pirrie's London house, Downshire House in Belgrave Square. It is now part of the Spanish Embassy. Pirrie also had mansions in Surrey and Belfast.

In a conciliatory move, Kylsant appointed Lady Pirrie life president of H&W. She remained unflinchingly hostile to him, however and bewildered by the state of her husband's finances.

It seems unlikely that Kylsant had been previously aware of H&W's equally disastrous financial position. When Kylsant appointed himself as chairman and began investigating the H&W private ledgers he was stunned to discover that the Company was on the verge of bankruptcy. The only safe Royal Mail group response would have been to face reality; close all or most of H&W and swallow the resultant investment losses. Kylsant felt however that H&W's plight was a serious threat to the survival of the entire Royal Mail group. RMSP, Union-Castle and the Elder Dempster companies, all had substantial share investments in H&W. These investments were in the shipping companies' balance sheets at cost but were in reality almost worthless. Group companies had also made cash loans of almost £600,000 to H&W. In addition, because of the complex cross-investments between the companies in the Royal Mail group, if the collapse of H&W caused one of these shipping companies to fail, this would have a domino effect throughout the group. As the entire group was increasingly dependent upon credit and Government loans, Kylsant thought it was imperative to avoid any public suspicion of failure.

Instead of Royal Mail raising money to cover the group's real investment losses, Kylsant's response to the massive problems posed by the H&W nightmare was characteristically cavalier. Within days he announced that H&W was to go public by the issue of £4,000,000 new non-voting preference shares. This move required the publication of H&W's accounts for the first time in its history, but Kylsant delayed that event by moving the Company's year end from 30 June to 31 December, thus giving himself a little time to massage the figures.

Against the background of the gloomy news from other public shipbuilding and engineering companies, the preference share issue was a disaster. Only 12% of the stock was subscribed, mainly from the conversion of existing loans to H&W. The rest of the issue was left in the hands of the underwriters. At least H&W received some badly needed funds, but until the underwriters could sell the stock, the entire Royal Mail group was cut off from the Stock Exchange as a source of finance.

The shipbuilder faced other massive problems. Pirrie had filled most of the Company's management positions with servile yes-men. The team had no knowledge of the finances of H&W; how estimates were prepared and contract details were a mystery to them. Decades of cost-plus Commission Club contracts had produced a management with no experience of the application of efficient cost control. Only John Craig of Colville's Steelworks had any overall management experience. John Craig was appointed deputy chairman and the two men devoted their attention to the education and development of the other board members.


Photo 6: John Craig

Kylsant and Craig also carried out a detailed investigation of H&W's financial situation. They were dismayed to discover that, except for the Commission Club contracts, every ship on the order book was being built at a loss. To make matters worse, Pirrie had already taken the eventual profit on the cost-plus contracts into the results for previous years. Even by the relaxed accounting standards of the 1920s H&W should have shown a loss of about £1,000,000 for the eighteen month 1923/24 accounting period. Kylsant needed to avoid disclosing the true trading position and that, despite the inflow of £4,000,000 from the creation of the new preference shares, the balance sheet was still in a precarious state. The fact that this was the Company's first public balance sheet was a great help - there were no previously published comparatives. Many of the new balance sheet descriptions were highly misleading. Kylsant's creative accounting disguised most of the Company's financial problems and produced a paper profit of £368,000. The City's favourable view enabled Kylsant and his team to concentrate on bringing work into the shipyards and trying to improve its productivity.

IMM Consolidation[edit]

IMM consolidated its passenger operations in response to the drastic reduction in the number US European immigrants. On 10 January 1925 the last American Line sailing was undertaken from Hamburg to New York by Minnekahda. Although her emigrant capacity was 1,900 passengers, she had only 234 on board. The ship was transferred to Atlantic Transport.


Photo 7: Minnekahda

All of Dominion's surviving passenger ships were transferred to Frederick Leyland ownership in 1921, although they continued under Dominion management until the new Regina was transferred to White Star in November 1925, while Dominion's final sailing was with their veteran Canada in August 1926.


Photo 8: Canada


Photo 9: Regina off Quebec

White Star Orders[edit]

In the summer of 1925 White Star attempted to replace the unsuitable Homeric and again ordered a 60,000 ton liner to be named Oceanic. H&W extended and strengthened one of its Belfast building berths for the proposed giant, but sadly White Star was forced to cancel the contract as it could not raise the finance needed to pay for the ship. White Star transferred the contract to buy Laurentic, a far more modest cabin-class ship for its Canadian service.

Ominously White Star demanded that Laurentic should be built under a fixed price contract. H&W responded by producing a thoroughly unsatisfactory austerity vessel, greatly alienating its customer. She was the last coal-fired, triple expansion major transatlantic liner and was already obsolete at the time of her delivery. Bizarrely, although she was intended and indeed named for the Canadian service, she was delivered with masts that were too tall to pass under the Montreal Bridge and they had to be cut down. The ship was considerably delayed by shortage of shipbuilding materials caused by a miner's strike and finally entered service at the end of 1927.


Photo 10: Laurentic

Purchase of Oceanic Steam Navigation Company - White Star[edit]

An announcement was made in April 1926 that IMM had received a British cash offer to buy White Star. It emerged that the £3.5 million offer was from a British consortium led by Furness Withy. Sadly the negotiations were suspended because of the buyers concerns about the economic impact of the British General Strike. In the autumn of 1926, when the effects of the miners' strike were at their worst, IMM gave notice to terminate its shipbuilding and shiprepair contract with H&W early in 1927 to enhance the White Star sale prospects. This was disastrous news for H&W as their Southampton and Liverpool shiprepair facilities had been established specifically for IMM's vessels. Shiprepair was the only consistently profitable part of H&W.

In desperation Kylsant made a knock-out offer of £7 million for Oceanic Steam Navigation Co (the legal name for White Star), which was accepted by IMM. Payment of part of the price was spread over ten years. Including interest on the deferred payments the total cost was £7.9 million.

White Star Line Ltd[edit]

The mechanism that Kylsant devised for the purchase was to create a new £9 million company, White Star Line Ltd as the vehicle for the transaction. He issued £5 million White Star 6.5% Preference Shares to the public, with the dividend guaranteed by Royal Mail Steam Packet Co. A further 4 million £1 ordinary shares were issued to other group companies, including Royal Mail, with only 10% of the nominal value paid-up. Kylsant's concept was that the balance of the nominal value would be called-up over the next 10 years to meet the deferred payments due to IMM. The crucial flaw in his plan was that legally the entire unpaid amount could be demanded by the Company at any time. Provided the Preference dividend was paid in full, the publically held Preference Shares had no voting rights, but if a dividend payment was missed the shares became fully enfranchised. In which event they could, in theory, stabilize White Star by pushing through a demand for immediate payment of the amount that was still outstanding on the White Star Ordinary Shares. The Royal Mail group companies had been so impoverished by H&W that very few had sufficient cash reserves to meet such a call. If they failed their White Star shares would be forfeited.

In addition to owning the ships operated as White Star Line, Oceanic controlled Shaw, Savill & Albion Co Ltd (SSA) by holding the majority of its Management Shares and 44% of its Ordinary Shares, with Sir John Ellerman owning the remainder. Oceanic also owned 60% of George Thompson & Co Ltd (who traded as Aberdeen Line), while SSA held the remaining 40%. As a result of the acquisition of these three companies on 1 January 1927, the Royal Mail group became the largest shipowners, as well as being the largest shipbuilders in the world.

With the acquisition of the White Star companies the opportunity was taken to rationalise the group's services. The Royal Mail transatlantic passenger service was discontinued releasing its liners. Ohio and Orca were transferred to White Star as Albertic and Calgaric respectively for employment on the Liverpool - Canada service, before moving to a London - Canada route in 1928.


Photo 11: Albertic (1923)a war reparations liner transferred to White Star from RMSP

At the end of 1927 the White Star passenger fleet consisted of: -

ServiceNameDeliveredGRTSpeed1st Pass2nd Pass3rd Pass
Southhampton - New YorkMajestic192256,55123700545850
Liverpool - (Boston) - New YorkAdriatic190724,541174004651,320
Liverpool - CanadaLaurentic192718,72416594406500
Chartered to Red StarArabic190816,786175001,200

When Kylsant acquired Oceanic S N Co he immediately initiated efforts to raise the £3.5 million to meet the H&W estimated cost of a superliner to replace Homeric. Design work was resumed early in 1927 and the order was confirmed the following June, only to be abandoned in 1929 after expending £150,000 and the contract replaced by orders for the much more modest Britannic and Georgic.

WST-8-12.jpg Photo 12: The planned Oceanic

White Star found that it had moved from one cash starved owner to another. As a result Olympic never obtained a new running mate, but efforts were made to maintain her viability. During the winter 1927-1928 Olympic received a major refit to improve her First Class staterooms and to encourage tourist passengers to use the ship. She emerged with a revised accommodation for 675 First Class; 561 Tourist Class and 819 Third Class passengers.

The wreck of Celtic[edit]

On 10 December 1928, as Celtic approached Cobh she stopped to pick up a pilot in gale force conditions and drifted onto Roches Point, at the entrance to the harbour. Full astern was ordered and Celtic came off but went aground again on Calf Rocks and became a total loss, thankfully without loss of life. To add to the drama, she was carrying the British survivors of the foundering of the Lamport & Holt liner Vestris.

WST-8-13.jpg Photo 13: Celtic stranded on Calf Rocks, Cobh The Last White Star Liners[edit]

Although Kylsant was unable to finance Oceanic he did obtain funds to build two White Star transatlantic liners - Britannic delivered in 1930 and Georgic in 1932. These became the largest ships in famous Pirrie/Kylsant series of motorships, with their distinctive, eccentric external period appearance and a dummy second funnel. These two ships were not identical sisters, as there were superstructure differences. As built, Britannic had two open superstructure decks, as shown in the photograph. The lower of these openings was plated over during her 1934 refit. Britannic had the same, severely square forward superstructure as the other Kylsant Motor Ships. Georgic had a more attractive, "Odeon Cinema" style, radiused forward superstructure that reflected the Art Deco interior decoration used in both ships. The ships were intended for the Liverpool - New York service (by the 1930s this had a much lower status than the service from Southampton) with the ability to provide relief cover for the main Southampton service.

WST-8-14.jpg Photo 14: Britannic as built, in New York WST-8-15.jpg Photo 15: Georgic Collapse and Bankruptcy[edit]

In addition to purchasing White Star, in April 1928, in a typical cavalier action, Kylsant agreed to buy the Ellerman shareholding in Shaw, Savill for £995,000 without consulting his board. He made this move despite the fact that he already controlled the management shares in Shaw, Savill and that the Royal Mail group was facing increasing financial constraints. The following month Kylsant purchased in the name of White Star Line the seriously loss making Australian Commonwealth Line from the Australian Government for £1.85 million payable over 10 years. The transaction involved five passenger liners built 1921/22 and two cargo ships built in Australia in 1924.These corporate acquisitions cost the Royal Mail group £10.75 million in cash and increased debt obligations. It is generally accepted that in making these purchases Kylsant was largely motivated by the hope of preserving shipbuilding orders for H&W. It is true that a large part of the fleets owned by the newly acquired companies was at the end of its working life, or unsuitable, or obsolete. This should have produced substantial orders for H&W, but the companies could not afford to buy new ships. The entire gigantic take over was futile.

Kylsant's increasingly desperate efforts to keep the gigantic Royal Mail empire together are described in detail in Royal Mail Steam Packet Company Kylsant Empire Part 5 and the aftermath of his failure in Royal Mail Steam Packet Company Kylsant Empire Part 6. The collapse of the Royal Mail group was hastened by the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the prolonged world-wide slump that followed, which led to White Star scrapping and not replacing tonnage.

The Royal Mail Group had incurred vast debts and in the rapidly deteriorating economic climate was unable to meet its interest and repayment obligations. Kylsant sought to obtain a payment moratorium and was initially successful, largely because the British Government could not believe that his huge organisation was insolvent. As time went on others were less tolerant and when he defaulted upon the new White Star 6.5% Preference Shares the public holders exercised their voting rights and deposed Kylsant from his position as chairman.

In January 1931 it was clear that the gigantic Royal Mail Group - the largest shipowning and shipbuilding organisation in the world - was bankrupt. The brilliant accountant Sir William McLintock and his fellow trustees in bankruptcy set about the very complex task of rescuing and re-establishing most of the constituent companies in the Royal Mail Group. They soon found that Kylsant had created such a web of interlocking shareholdings between the various group companies that this was going to be a long drawn out exercise. In anger the Government turned on Kylsant, who was arrested and charged under the Larceny Act with issuing misleading accounts and issuing a misleading prospectus. In a controversial judgement he was imprisoned for two years; not for what he had published, but because what had not been disclosed.

The end of White Star[edit]

At the end of 1932, with passenger traffic in decline, Olympic again went for an overhaul and refit that took four months. When she returned to service in March 1933 her revised passenger capacities were 618 First Class; 447 Tourist Class and only 382 Third Class, reflecting the decline of the immigrant trade.

WST-8-16.jpg Photo 16: Olympic near the end of her career

Ever since Kylsant formed White Star Line Ltd on 1 January 1927 to acquire the Oceanic Steam Navigation Co Ltd, the appalling transatlantic trading conditions had resulted in a steady reduction in the size of the White Star fleet.

ServiceNameDeliveredGRTSpeed1st Pass2nd Pass3rd Pass
Southhampton - New YorkMajestic192256,55123700545850
Liverpool - (Boston) - New YorkGeorgic193227,75918479557506
Liverpool - CanadaLaurentic192718,72416594406500

By the end of 1933 the remaining White Star group companies were clearly bankrupt and the Treasury was obliged to step in. Cunard was also in difficulties and unable to continue to finance the construction of the superliners Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth. The Government offered to provide assistance conditional upon the two organisations merging their transatlantic operations. The North Atlantic Shipping Act was passed in 1934 and Cunard-White Star Ltd was formed. Every White Star Group asset that was not required for the combined service was sold, including the remaining Australian assets.

During 1934, Olympic again collided with another vessel. The approaches to New York were marked by lightships and Olympic, like other liners, would pass close by these vessels. On 15 May 1934, Olympic, inbound in heavy fog, was homing in on the radio beacon of Nantucket Lightship LV-117. The liner failed to turn in time and sliced into the light vessel, which broke apart and sank. Four of the lightship's eleven man crew went down with the vessel and three more died of their injuries.

WST-8-17.jpg Photo 17: Olympic passing Nantucket Lightship in 1934

It was clear that there was barely sufficient British transatlantic trade to support one sailing per week and Olympic, Homeric and Cunard's Mauritania were withdrawn from service. Olympic left New York for the last time on 5 April 1935, returning to Southampton to be laid up.

WST-8-18.jpg Photo 18: Olympic (left) and Mauretania laid-up in Southampton awaiting disposal

In September 1935 Olympic was sold to Metal Industries for £97,500, to be partially demolished at Jarrow, to provide work for the depressed region. Her superstructure was demolished during 1936, and in 1937, Olympic's hull was towed to Inverkeithing to T.W. Ward's yard for final demolition.

Olympic completed 257 commercial transatlantic round voyages, transporting 430,000 passengers and travelling some 1.8 million miles.

The very unsatisfactory, eight year old Laurentic was laid-up until she became a troopship and was ultimately lost in 1940.

In 1935 White Star Line Ltd was wound up in 1935 with a deficit of £11.28 million (equivalent to £611 million in 2010). Oceanic Steam Navigation Co Ltd was dissolved in 1939. By then Britannic and Georgic were the only remaining operational Oceanic vessels. In 1947 Cunard bought the Oceanic Steam Realisation Co 38% shareholding in Cunard-White Star Ltd and the realisation company was wound up the following year. The Cunard-White Star name was dropped in 1949 when Cunard Steam-Ship Co Ltd took over all of the activities of Cunard-White Star.

WST-8-19.jpg Photo 19: Britannic in the 1950s

White Star was the only major company in the Kylsant Empire to disappear completely

The Political Survival of Harland and Wolff[edit]

H&W was the last company to remain with the Trustees. Frederick F Rebbeck, who had been Lord Pirrie's diesel engine production protégée, succeeded Kylsant as Chairman. Against great odds Sir William McLintock kept the business in existence until the opportunity at last came to restructure the company's capital and sell its shares on the London Stock Exchange in 1944. Like Kylsant before him however, McLintock failed to change the management ethos that disregarded any thought of controlling operational costs. The wartime Controller of Merchant Shipbuilding & Repair, Sir James Lithgow, was not alone in regarding H&W as the least cost efficient shipbuilder in Britain. The company only prospered during periods of intense demand for ships - it made its last ever profit in 1963. Rebbeck's arrogance and obstinacy grew as he realised his position was safe as no leading shipbuilder wanted to tackle the ingrained H&W problems. With the re-launch of H&W he was released from McLintock's efforts to impose financial responsibility as he knew that when the shipbuilding boom was over, the political importance of H&W to the government of Northern Ireland would ensure its continued existence for many years, regardless of its inefficiency.


This series of Articles is partly based upon the author's SN Directory Articles on the Kylsant empire: -

Royal Mail Steam Packet Company Kylsant Empire

Various Wikipedia pages, the Titanic Historical Society and websites were helpful, as were the American and British Titanic Inquiry Reports and the US Senate Immigration Reports. Books consulted include: -

  • Arnold Kludas - Great Passenger Ships of the World
  • N R P Bonsor - North Atlantic Seaway
  • Duncan Hawes Merchant Fleets Volume 19: White Star Line
  • Michael Moss and John R Hume - Shipbuilders to the World

Some of the photographs used to illustrate this article are from the Ships Nostalgia Galleries, which are available for use in the Directory. Many others are from Wikimedia Commons and are in the public domain. The individual photographs used in Part 8 have been provided as follows: -

  1. Ships Nostalgia - DICK SLOAN
  2. Harland & Wolff
  3. Ships Nostalgia - linerrich
  4. Wikimedia Commons
  5. Wikimedia Commons
  6. Colville's
  7. Ships Nostalgia - linerrich
  8. Ships Nostalgia - linerrich
  9. Ships Nostalgia - signalman
  10. Ships Nostalgia - Stuart Smith
  11. Ships Nostalgia - mifhin
  12. Wikimedia Commons
  13. Ships Nostalgia - linerrich
  14. Ships Nostalgia - awatean
  16. Ships Nostalgia - Fairfield
  17. Wikimedia Commons
  18. - Rob Ottmers
  19. Ships Nostalgia - cunard61

Article written and compiled by Fred Henderson

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