The story, supposedly, begins on the 20th September 1911. The RMS Olympic, the sister ship to the Titanic and the Britanic, collided with the HMS Hawke off the Isle of Wight. She sustained severe damage but was able to make it safely back to Southampton. This was a disaster for the White Star Line, who not only lost revenue whilst she was out of service but had to pay both for her repairs and slow work on the Titanic to allow the Olympic into dry dock at Belfast for repairs.
Worse still, in February, she lost a propeller blade and delayed the maiden voyage of the Titanic by a month as resources were pulled to get the Olympic back into action. So far this is all considered fact. This is where the conspiracy diverges from accepted history.
The proponents of the Olympic Switch scenario believe that the incredible financial lose caused by the RMS Olympic's problems caused the owners of the White Star Line to consider drastic solutions. They say that during the time in Belfast when the Olympic had to swap with the Titanic and use the dry dock a plan was put into place. This would swap the names between the ships (along with a few details, as though similar they were not exact twins) meaning the brand new Titanic would now become the Olympic and the badly damaged Olympic would become the Titanic.
The plan went as follows:
The Olympic-Titanic would be sunk on it's "maiden" voyage in an insurance scam to get back the money lost in repairing the Olympic. The crew and passengers would be rescued by the SS Californian which conspiracy theorists say had been rushed out to mid-Atlantic to await it's part in the plan. The Captain and possibly senior crew would have been aware of this plan.
Sadly before the plan could be put into place, the ship struck an iceberg (some theories say it struck a ship blacked out and ready to initiate the rescue of the Titanic once the plan took shape) and sank just out of view of the SS Californian and the planned rescue thus never occurred. (the SS Californian's part in the tragedy, even under the accepted history, is controversial check it out here). 1517 people lost their lives. A more through look at the theory can be found here.
Unfortunately, for the proponents at least, there are a few issues with this scenario. As I stated there were differences, mainly cosmetic, between the two ships. Most theorists claim that "obviously" the Olympic and Titanic were worked on to ensure they matched each other and that the irregularities in their designs were swapped over. But this would mean not only involvement by a few people but a large scale conspiracy across many people including the skilled ship builders in Belfast. Did all these people manage to keep their silence, even after the plan went horribly wrong? Would the thought that you had taken part in such an awful plan eaten away at you until you couldn't take it any longer?
Images from the wreck also begin to show cracks in the story. The wheelhouse of the Olympic was curved, the wheel house of the Titanic was straight. Pictures of the famous wheel under water show the wheelhouse wall. And it's straight.
And why would the White Star Line executives really risk their reputation and their lives upon such a plan? They weren't crazy!
I think that I can not refute the theory any more expertly than this dissertation. Conspiracy theories can be amusing, and occasionally necessary but sometimes they cross a line. Just as with those who support "9/11 Truth", I believe that those who support a theory like this based on nothing more than rumours and conjecture risk insulting the memory of those who lost their lives in this tragedy. The Captain may have made mistakes, and he paid for them with his life, but this does not mean he is a murderer something which this conspiracy theory suggests. So until some actual physical evidence is brought up from the wreck proving it to be the Olympic I shall not be giving this theory any more of my time.
Any conspiracy theory that bases it's main points upon the silence of the hundreds of people supposedly involved should be laughed out of the room. It shows a naive belief in the ability of humans to keep secrets en masse and renders this theory a good story but far from acceptable fact.
Titanic: The Ship That Never Sank? - Robin Gardiner - The most in depth look at the theory by it's most famous proponent .
Olympic & Titanic: The Truth Behind the Conspiracy - Bruce Beveridge and Steve Hall - A rebuttal of the conspiracy theory.