Big Four (White Star Line)

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RMS Celtic postcard.jpg
One of the Big Four, RMS Celtic
Class overview
Builders: Harland and Wolff, Belfast, Ireland
Operators: White Star Line
Built: 1901-1906
In service: 1901-1934
Planned: 4
Completed: 4
Lost: 1
Retired: 3
Preserved: 0
General characteristics
Type: Ocean liner
Tonnage: app. 21,000-24,550 ton
Length: 700-730 ft (213.8 m)
Beam: 75.3-75.6 ft (23 m)
Depth: 44 ft (13 m)
Propulsion: Steam quadruple expansion engines, powering two propellers.
Speed: 17 knots (31 km/h)
Capacity: 2857 passengers

The Big Four[1] were a quartet of 20,000 ton ocean liners built by Harland & Wolff shipyard for the White Star Line in the early 20th century, completed in 1906:


In 1899, White Star Line commissioned RMS Oceanic, which exceed the SS Great Eastern in length, although not tonnage. After Thomas Ismay’s death the order of Oceanic’s sister-ship, Olympic was cancelled. Instead, resources were transferred to the company’s new project; to build the grandest fleet of ships that had ever sailed the seas, the 'Big Four'.[1]


RMS Celtic under construction.

In 1901, White Star Line ordered a series of four ships that were to be larger than the Great Eastern, terming these ships 'the Big Four'. The four ships were designed to have a tonnage in excess of 20,000 tons and rather than being built for speed and to compete for the Blue Riband, were designed to be more luxurious than their rivals.[2]

A transcribed copy of the RMS Cedric log dated 21 October 1903

The first of the four vessels was named Celtic, and was ordered by Thomas Ismay before his death.[1] The Celtic was launched on 4 April 1901 and made her maiden voyage on 26 July. She was shorter than the Oceanic but was still longer than the Great Eastern.[1] After Celtic was completed, she was the biggest ship in the world at 21,035 gross tons.

RMS Baltic line drawing.

The project was followed by the Cedric, which was launched on 21 August 1902 and made her maiden voyage on 11 February 1903. At the time she was launched she was the biggest moving object ever built at 21,073 gross tons.

RMS Adriatic under construction.

The project was followed by the Baltic, which was launched on 21 November 1903 and made her maiden voyage on 29 June 1904. She was the largest ship in the world at 23,876 gross tons until 1905, when the HAPAG's 24,581 gross ton Kaiserin Auguste Victoria surpassed her in tonnage.[3] The popularity of White Star's Big Four was eventually overtaken by Cunard's Lusitania and Mauretania, both of which were larger than the Adriatic, at 24,541 gross tons the largest and also the fastest of the Big Four, but which was superseded in size before her launch by the Lusitania. Lastly the Red Star Line's SS Lapland, at a more economical 17,000 tons, was a virtual sister ship to the Big Four in her layout and dimensions. Lapland was also built by Harland & Wolff.


The reading and writing room on board the Adriatic

The Big Four had a tonnage of 21,035 - 24,541, with the Baltic and the Adriatic much larger than the first two. However, the Adriatic, which was the largest of the four, was also the only one not to have held the title of largest passenger ship in world.[4] The four ships were propelled by two propellers driven by steam quadruple expansion and reached an average speed of 16 knots (30 km/h), although their maximum speeds varied. The silhouettes of the four vessels were similar, black hull with red keel and white superstructure. They were provided with four masts (two front and two rear) which supported the cables of wireless telegraphy. The two funnels were buff topped with a black sleeve. The vessels had luxury on an unprecedented scale, with a dining room dominated by a glass roof, a lounge with a reading and writing room with many books and periodicals, also adorned with large picture windows, a covered promenade deck, a smoking room decorated stained glass[5] and in the case of the Adriatic, an indoor pool and Turkish baths.[6]



Main article: RMS Celtic

Celtic was the first of the Big Four, which entered service in 1901. This was the first ship to exceed the Great Eastern in tonnage. Her career was marked by several accidents. Transformed into an auxiliary cruiser during the First World War, she struck a mine in 1917, killing 17 people. In 1918, she was torpedoed by a German submarine, but was once again afloat. In 1925, she struck another vessel, but neither ship suffered consequences. The incident was repeated with another vessel in 1927. Finally, in 1928, she struck rocks off Cobh and was considered unrecoverable. It took five years for the ship to be completely dismantled.[7][8]


Main article: RMS Cedric

The Cedric was put into service in 1903. Her commercial career was divided into transatlantic crossings and cruises. When the Titanic sank, the Cedric was docked in New York. After the sinking it was reported that J. Bruce Ismay, managing director of the White Star line, had attempted arranged by wireless code with the New York offices of his company to delay the sailing of Cedric until the Carpathia arrived in port so that he and the surviving crew members of the Titanic could return to England without setting foot on United States soil, however the Cedric sailed on schedule. [9] During the war, the Cedric was transformed into an auxiliary cruiser. On 29 January 1918 the Cedric collided with, and sank the Canadian Pacific ship Montreal off Morecambe Bay. The Montreal was taken in tow but sank the next day 14 miles (23 km) from the Mersey Bar lightvessel. On 30 September 1923 the Cedric collided with RMS Scythia of the Cunard Line in Queenstown (Cobh) harbour during dense fog. Neither vessel was seriously damaged. She was decommissioned in 1931 and was scrapped the following year.[10]


Main article: RMS Baltic (1903)

Commissioned in 1904, the Baltic played repeatedly a rescue part at sea. In 1909, she received the SOS from the RMS Republic (1903), after a collision with SS Florida of Lloyd Italiano. In 1912, the night of the sinking of the Titanic, the Baltic received the distress call from the ship, but failed to join. She was also involved in a rescue on 6 December 1929, when she assisted the sinking schooner Northern Light. On 17 February 1933, she sailed for Osaka, Japan where she was scrapped.[11] Baltic was commonly accompanied by White Star tender SS Magnetic, which serviced her throughout most of her career. The two ships appear together on many White Star Line postcards.


Main article: RMS Adriatic (1907)

The Adriatic, which entered service in 1907, was the largest and most luxurious of the Big Four. Her career was marked by the events known by her sister ships, and she enjoyed a successful commercial career, even having the honor of opening the Southampton - New York route for the White Star Line.[4] Her career was interrupted by the First World War, during which the ship made several voyages as a troop transport.[12] The Adriatic was devoted full-time to cruising from 1933, and was retired the following year. She was scrapped in Japan in 1935.




External links[edit]

Media related to Big Four (White Star Line) at Wikimedia Commons