Gross Tonnage - 48,158 tons
Dimensions - 259.68 x 28.65m (852 x 94ft)
Number of funnels - 4
Number of masts - 2
Construction - Steel
Propulsion - Triple-screw
Engines - Triple-expansion, eight and steam turbines
Service speed - 21 knots
Builder - Harland & Wolff, Belfast
Launch date - 26 February 1914
Passenger accommodation - 790 1st class, 836 2nd class, 953 3rd class
The Britannic was the sister ship to the Olympic and Titanic, although it never ran on the North Atlantic. There is a story that it was originally to have been named Gigantic. The White Star Line always denied it but the legend has never been definitely proved or disproved Its completion was delayed pending the outcome of the court enquiry into the Titanic disaster. As a result of this extra safety features were added.
It was finally launched on 26 February 1914 as the Britannic. White Star announced that it would begin sailing the Southampton-New York route in the spring of 1915. The outbreak of World War One changed this and it was converted into a hospital ship with over 3,300 beds. On 13 November it was fitted out medically and on 8 December commissioned as a hospital ship and handed over in International Red Cross livery. The Britannic arrived at Liverpool, from Belfast, on 12 December 1915, but it did not leave on its maiden voyage to Mudros until 23 December.
The ship went on to make further voyages as a hospital ship. Next it was to call at Mudros on the Isle of Lemnos and assist in the evacuation of wounded troops from the Gallipoli campaign. It also spent four weeks as a floating hospital ship off Cowes on the Isle of Wight. Subsequent to this it returned to Belfast on 6 June 1916 and was released from war service. Harland and Wolff had already begun refitting the Britannic as a Royal Mail and passenger steamer when the Admiralty recalled the ship to war service. The ship made two further trips to Mudros before its final voyage.
On 12 November 1916 the Britannic left Southampton and, after bunkering at Naples on the 17th, on the 21st it ran into a mine field in the Zea Channel, 4 miles west of Port St.Nikolo, Kea. The mines had been laid by German submarine U-73 and despite the fact that the Channel had been swept the day before some mines obviously still remained. The ship was racked by an explosion starboard below the bridge and the forward part flooded when the water-tight doors failed to function. Captain Bartlett tried unsuccessfully to beach the ship on Kea Island whilst preparations were made to save the 1,125 aboard, incidentally none of whom were patients.
As it settled by the head abandon ship was ordered. Two boats were lowered and slashed by the still rotating propellers killing 30. One hour after the explosion the ship keeled over to starboard and sank. The survivors were picked up by the escorting destroyers Foxhound and Scourge and the armed merchant cruiser Heroic. Two of the survivors had also been aboard the Titanic. The light cruiser HMS Foresight berthed at Port St. Nikolo and the French tug Goliath also assisted in the rescue. Captain Bartlett was the last to leave the ship and only 30 people died from the large number on board. The Britannic was the largest ever, 48,158 tons, British Merchant Service war loss.
Incidentally the Keiler Zeitung claimed that the Britannic had been torpedoed because the ship was carrying troops. After a period of speculation the mine theory was confirmed by U-73's commander Siess' log. he had only laid mines. Also the Braemar Castle, a ship of the Union Castle Line, struck a mine there two days later.
The shore based furnishings and equipment of the ship were auctioned on 4 July 1919. It wasn't until 1975 that the hull of the ship was located by Jacque Cousteau's Calypso, and the following year he returned to explore the site in more detail. It was considered to be too disintegrated to be of use. Recently, however, a team of Greek divers located and filmed the ship and are campaigning for funding in order to open a museum to display artefacts from the ship.
- Adapted from the Cunard Archives
Click HERE to enter the RMS Britannic section of the Picture Gallery
http://www.liv.ac.uk/~archives/cunard/ships/britc2.htm - Cunard Archives on Brittanic
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