TRUE or false ­— the Titanic hit the iceberg because of events off Cowes Esplanade a few months before?

The answer, believe it or not, is true.

The Titanic had a sister ship ­— the 45,000 ton liner, Olympic.

She was the largest ship in the world, and just 12 weeks old when she left Southampton Docks on a wet September afternoon in 1911, on her fifth trip to New York.

She was carrying 3,000 passengers and crew, and according to The Times: “Among those on board were 20 millionaires whose total wealth is estimated at $500 million.”

As the millionaires sat down for lunch, the Olympic left Southampton water, steamed slowly to the west, rounded the Bramble buoy off Egypt Point and then turned east toward Spithead.

Despite the rain, large crowds had gathered along Cowes Esplanade and were watching the ship sail past the Royal Yacht Squadron when, in the distance, approaching from the west, came HMS Hawke ­— a naval cruiser on its way to Portsmouth.

Both ships were now going in the same direction.

As the County Press reported: “The Hawke overtook the Olympic and appeared to attempt to pass it on the starboard side, and then, after getting about level with the liner’s foremost funnel, steered to port.

“This manoeuvre had a disastrous result, for the cruiser crashed into the Olympic some 50ft from the liner’s stern.”

On the bridge of the Hawke it was panic stations.

The subsequent inquest heard that as the Hawke swung in towards the liner, the captain, William Blunt, called down the voice-pipe to the helmsman.

He said: “What are you doing? Port! Hard a-port! Full astern starboard!”

At the same time, Capt Smith of the Olympic called out to the pilot, who was navigating her through the Solent.

“He is starboarding,” he said.

“He is going to hit us!”

The pilot ordered ‘hard a-port’ in an attempt to swing the liner’s stern away from the cruiser, but by then, it was far too late, and the two ships collided.

According to the County Press: “The terrific impact sounded like an explosion, and was heard more than a mile away.

“For some minutes the two ships lay together ­— the cruiser’s stem locked into the liner’s quarter.

“Then the Hawke went astern and the terrific damage was visible.

“The plates of the liner were smashed, leaving a great gaping hole about 15ft across at the widest part.

“The water-tight compartments of the Olympic had been promptly closed, and although the ship made a good deal of water, there was no danger of her sinking.

“Naturally, the collision caused great alarm amongst the passengers, but the great many who were in the saloons and other parts of the ship were quite unaware that the ship had been rammed until informed by the crew.

“It was seen to take a decided list immediately after the impact.

“Both ships, locked together, stopped their engines. Collision mats were put out, and the water-tight bulkheads were closed.

“The Hawke’s bow was buckled and twisted and was a pitiable site. The plating was ripped open and torn away like paper.

“When the collision occurred, fragments of the bow were seen to fly in all directions.

“Reports of the collision spread rapidly through Cowes, and people flocked to the Esplanade and seafront to view the badly damaged ships.

“The Olympic drifted like a ship out of control almost into Osborne Bay.

“The Hawke made a good deal of water, but the bulkheads did their work and the cruiser was placed in the dock at Portsmouth Dockyard on Thursday morning.

“The crippled Olympic remained at anchor in Cowes Roads throughout the night ­— the pumps constantly at work ­— and got safely back to Southampton on Thursday.”

To no-one’s great surprise, the Naval inquiry cleared the Hawke of all blame ­— the Olympic was declared to have sailed too close to the Hawke, allowing its vast bulk to draw the Hawke into its side by suction.

It was a verdict that was not shared by many outside the Navy.

The Olympic returned to the Belfast yard of shipbuilders, Harland and Wolff, where she had been launched just 12 weeks before, and when she got there, it was to find that her sister ship, the Titanic, then under construction, was almost ready for launching.

After examining the Olympic, a decision was taken which would have far reaching consequences.

It was decided that work on the Titanic would be halted so repairs to the Olympic could be carried out immediately, allowing her to return to service.

It was a decision that effectively sealed the Titanic’s fate.

The Olympic was repaired, and as a direct result, the launch date of the Titanic was missed, and she eventually left Southampton on her maiden voyage, not on March 20, as originally intended, but on April 10, 1912 ­— to keep her appointment with the iceberg four days later.

There is one final, eerie twist to the tale ­— Capt Smith also had an appointment with the iceberg.

Following the Olympic accident, he was assigned to a new ship ­— the Titanic.

Singularly unlucky, Capt Smith was at the helm of the Titanic as she struck the iceberg on her maiden voyage, and as she sank, she took Smith with her.