The RMS Oceanic was a transatlantic ocean liner built for the White Star Line. She sailed on her maiden voyage on September 6th 1899 and was the largest ship in the world until 1901.
Oceanic's keel was laid in January 1897 under the supervision of her designer, Thomas Ismay, director and owner of the Oceanic Steam Navigation Company, better known as White Star Line.
Oceanic was the first ship to exceed Brunel's SS Great Eastern in length, although not in tonnage, and was, when she was launched, the largest ship afloat, a title she retained until 1901 when White Star Line's RMS Celtic was launched.
At 17,272 gross tons, the future "Queen of the Ocean" cost one million pounds sterling and required 1,500 shipwrights to complete. Her launching on 14 January 1899 was watched by over 1,000 invited guests, including the Marquis of Dufferin, Duke of Abercorn and Lord Londonderry.
RMS 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, Celtic, Baltic and Adriatic 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’s Queen's Island yard at Belfast, as was the tradition with White Star Line ships.
In year 1900, in heavy fog (which lasted for four days), Oceanic was rescued by being put on the right course by a local skipper, Captain Peter Harrison on his flat boat the Alice Linda. Oceanic had almost run aground off the seaside town of Cleveleys on the Fylde coast in Lancashire. After that incident, the Oceanic always had a special greeting for Captain Harrison's boat whenever the two met at Liverpool. One of Peter Harrison's valued possessions was a pair of binoculars presented to him by the White Star officials in recognition of his timely action.
In 1901, in a heavy fog, Oceanic was involved in a collision when she rammed and sank the small Waterford Steamship Company SS Kincora, killing seven.
In 1905, Oceanic was the first White Star Line ship to suffer a mutiny, which resulted in the conviction and imprisonment of 35 stokers upset with the officers over working conditions.
In April 1912, during the departure of RMS Titanic from Southampton, Oceanic became involved in the near collision of Titanic with SS New York, when Oceanic was nearby as New York broke from her mooring and nearly collided with Titanic, due to the large wake caused by Titanic′s size and speed.
A month later, in mid-May 1912, Oceanic picked up three bodies in one of the lifeboats left floating in the North Atlantic after Titanic sank. After their retrieval from Collapsible A by Oceanic, the bodies were buried at sea.
Shortly after the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, Oceanic was included in a deal with the Admiralty, 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 she was to be given could be quickly mounted. "The greatest liner of her day" was commissioned into Naval service on 8 August 1914 as an armed merchant cruiser.
Oceanic headed for Scapa Flow in Orkney, Britain’s main naval anchorage, with easy access to the North Sea 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-boats. 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.
An inaccurate fix of their position was made on the night of 7 September by navigator Lieutenant David Blair RNR (previously assigned to, then reassigned from, the Titanic). While everyone on the bridge thought they were well to the southwest of the Isle of Foula, they were in fact an estimated thirteen to fourteen miles off course and on the wrong side of the island. This put them directly on course for a reef, 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. Commander 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.
The Aberdeen 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. Charles Lightoller, the ship's First Officer (and also the most senior officer to survive the sinking of the Titanic), was the last man off, taking the navigation room's clock as a souvenir.
In 1924, a salvage company which had been engaged on the scuttled German warships at Scapa Flow 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.