HMHS Britannic: Titanic’s Equally Ill Fated Sister Ship

HMHS Britannic: Titanic’s Equally Ill Fated Sister Ship

Melina Druga
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RMS Britannic
RMS Britannic as she was originally built

She was RMS Titanic’s sister ship, and like her more famous sister, she ended up below the waves. She was larger than Titanic, the world’s largest ocean liner, and although she was built as a liner, she never carried passengers.  She is HMHS Britannic.

Operated by White Star Line, Britannic was launched in February 1914, six months before the war began.

She was considered safer than Titanic, because changes were made to Britannic’s design after Titanic sank.

“She was fitted with a double skin hull,” Titanic and Co. says.  “It ran for the full length of the boiler and engine room compartments.  An extra bulkhead was added to make 17 compartments, and five of them were extended to the Bridge deck some 40 foot above the waterline.  These modifications should, in theory, prevent her from sinking in under three hours.”

In 1915, Britannic was converted into a hospital ship with 3,300 beds.  It served during the Dardanelles campaign and in the Middle Eastern theatre, transporting the wounded and sick to Britain, before being released from service.

The ship was later recalled and sank on the third voyage after returning to service.

November 21, 1916

RMS Britannic as a hospital ship
RMS Britannic after it was converted to a hospital ship

Britannic was off the Greek island of Kea on the morning of Nov. 21, 1916, when she hit a mine or, possibly, was hit by a torpedo. Most of the staff was at breakfast, and they immediately ran to their posts.

Despite safety changes, the explosion or a technical glitch caused the water tight doors to remain open, and the water tight compartments quickly filled with water. It didn’t help matters that many of the portholes were open, allowing water easy entery.

Staff began an evacuation, but it was halted. The captain decided to try and beach the ship but was unsuccessful.

Some crew members were unaware the evacuation had been halted and lowered two of the lifeboats. The boats and their occupants were torn apart by the propellers. A third life boat nearly had the same gruesome end, but the ship’s engines stopped in time.

The order then was given to abandon ship.

Britannic rolled onto her starboard side and sank less than an hour after the explosion.  She was the largest British merchant ship lost during the war.

No patients were aboard, and miraculously, only 30 people lost their lives.

Britannic is Found

HMHS Britannic wreck site
HMHS Britannic wreck site — CC-BY-SA-4.0

Jacques Cousteau found the wreckage in 1975 in 400 feet of water.

Simon Mills, a British marine historian, purchased the wreck site in 1996 and 12 years later planned to turn the site into a museum.

“Our plan is to start off with three- or four-seater submersibles,” Mills told the Guardian in 2008. “The Titanic lies in the cold waters of the north Atlantic and is rapidly disintegrating because of iron-eating bacteria, in a couple of hundred years there will be very little that is recognisable. But the Britannic is completely different. She lies in warm waters, is very well preserved and wonderfully intact. For so long she has been eclipsed by her older sister but she also has her own story to tell.”

Mills’ plan was to also do historical research.

If the museum has opened, it doesn’t have a website.

Was the decision to beach the ship its ultimate downfall? Leave a comment below.

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Updated: 23 July 2018

Most kids have an active imagination. My imagination has stayed strong into adulthood, and I’ve funneled that creativity into a successful writing career. I write history, both fiction and nonfiction, because although your school history classes may have been boring, the past is not. My goal is to bring the past to life in all its myriad of colors.
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