Monday, April 2, 2012


Even though I'm not officially participating in April's A-Z Challenge, there are some fabulous articles by those who are. Here is the list of those participating. As my blog allows, I will be adding articles to correspond to the letter for the day, such as today's subject, B for Britannic.

This month marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Olympic class ocean liner, Titanic. On April 15, 1912 at 2:20 a.m., the highly touted unsinkable ship, slid under the waves.

Most ships built have sister ships, so I wondered, what were the names of them and what happened to them?

The Olympic, Britannic, and Titanic
Artist color depiction
As it happens, the Titanic had two sister ships, the older sister, Olympic, which was started three months before the Titanic (launched on 20 October 1910 and served until 1935), and the youngest sister, Britannic, built in 1913 and launched February 26, 1914. Just in time for the Great War—WWI.

The Titanic disaster had taught the builders some lessons and they were employed in the building of the Britannic. Safety features like the second watertight inner skin added as she was being built and more lifeboats—enough carry every member of the crew and all passengers. Additionally, special emergency lifeboat crane davits, which would enable all lifeboats to be launched despite listing (great idea but still didn’t work with all the port side lifeboats). She was designed not to be able to sink in under three hours. Still there was the prevailing idea that these three ships were virtually unsinkable. In theory, I suppose that was true, but in reality, sadly incorrect.

HMHS Britannic
The British Navy, commandeered the Britannic to be a hospital ship, and she never saw commercial use. All her luxurious fittings were removed and she became a hospital. Her maiden voyage was to provide a hospital for the wounded of the disastrous Gallipoli campaign. The HMHS Britannic completed five successful missions between the Mediterranean and Briton carrying wounded.

On November 21, 1916 an explosion on starboard side of the ship damaging two holds and the watertight bulkhead. The captain ordered her watertight doors be closed and lifeboats readied. Unfortunately, not all the doors were working and the Britannic took on water. Still, she should have been fine had the nurses not opened the portholes on the lower deck for fresh air in the wards and sadly allowed the water to pour into the ship. A lot of water. The captain had thought to make a run for the Kea shore three miles away with hopes of grounding the ship. Didn’t work. Britannic was listing too badly to make it.

The explosion was thought to be either from an enemy mine or torpedo (the German U-73’s records claim the Britannic was hit by one mine). Hospital ships were generally safe from enemy attacks, but rumors abounded that the Britannic was also carrying weapons. That may have made her a target. The Britannic was carrying 625 crewmembers and 500 medical personnel. Twenty-0ne members of the crew died along with 9 medical officers. I have no idea how many patients she carried.

The ship built not to sink in under 3 hours sank in less than 1—55 minutes to be precise.

The Britannic lies 400 feet down on the bottom of the Aegean Sea in international waters. The likes of, Jacques Cousteau, and others have explored her. In 2003, Carl Spenser, and crew dove the wreck. Sonar expert, Bill Smith confirmed there were number of mine anchors located around the ship. He also established the Britannic was hit by one mine and that the rapid sinking was a result of faulty watertight doors (probably due to damage from the explosion) and compounded by open portholes throughout the lower deck.

What a tragic ending for two bright stars of the Olympic-class liners, commissioned by the White Star Line.

HMHS Britannic today
The ship was 882 feet long and the hull broke when
it hit the Aegean floor, which is only 400' down.