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HMHS Britannic - The "Forgotten Sister"
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HMHS Britannic - The "Forgotten Sister"

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Britannic was being constructed in 1913. Her structure ran 852 feet (longer than the Olympic). She was fitted with a double skin hull. It ran for the full length of the boiler and engine room …

Britannic was being constructed in 1913. Her structure ran 852 feet (longer than the Olympic). She was fitted with a double skin hull. 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.

The boiler room and engine rooms were more or less identical to the Olympic except that Britannic turbine engines could generate18,000 horse power. The engines were not built by John Brown & Co as in the case for Olympic but were built by Harland & Wolff.

Her stern would differ from the Olympics because the aft shelter deck was enclosed so that the third class passengers could enjoy a covered area of exterior deck. The third class smoking room was placed above their general room giving the impression that the stern was much bigger.


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  • 1. BLACK HAWK MINES HMHS Britannic "The forgotten Sister"
  • 2. The Olympic and Titanic have been built. The HMHS (His Majestys Hospital Ship) Britannic was the third" wonder ship" to be built. Originally, the ship was to be named " Gigantic ", but due to the loss of the Titanic, hername was changed to Britannic. The White Star Line knew if they were to keep ahead in the race across theAtlantic the new liner would have to be more magnificent than her older sisters.Due to the sinking of the Titanic, large scale alterations would have to be made to her design. She could not sink inunder 3 hours. She must carry enough lifeboats to accommodate every passenger and crew member.Britannic was being constructed in 1913. Her structure ran 852 feet (longer than the Olympic). She was fitted with adouble skin hull. It ran for the full length of the boiler and engine room compartments. An extra bulkhead wasadded to make 17 compartments and five of them were extended to the Bridge deck some 40 foot above thewaterline. These modifications should in theory prevent her from sinking in under three hours.The boiler room and engine rooms were more or less identical to the Olympic except that Britannic turbine enginescould generate18,000 horse power. The engines were not built by John Brown & Co as in the case for Olympic butwere built by Harland & Wolff.Her stern would differ from the Olympics because the aft shelter deck was enclosed so that the third classpassengers could enjoy a covered area of exterior deck. The third class smoking room was placed above theirgeneral room giving the impression that the stern was much bigger.
  • 3. • Another striking difference was the layout of the lifeboats. She was designed to carry 48 open lifeboats. Forty-six of them would be 34 foot long (making them the largest lifeboats ever placed on a ship before). Two of the 46 would be motor propelled and would carry wireless sets for communications. The other two were 26 foot cutters placed at both sides of the bridge.• Essentially, the interior of the ship would not differ from the Olympic and Titanic. The builders added extra delights throughout the ship for every class. The second class were given a gymnasium and many of her private room were fitted with private bathrooms.
  • 4. On the 26th February 1914 theBritannic was ready forlaunching. The weather wasgrim but the officials ploddedon. At 11.10 a.m. a rocketsignalled the commencementof the ceremony and theworkforce removed the blockskeeping the hull from slippinginto the water. At 11.15 withthe help of 20 tonnes of tallow,train oil and soft soap shemoved down the slipway. Shetook 81 seconds to stand afloatin the water.Following the successfullaunch she was towed to theAbercon Basin to start herfitting. She was pulled by thetugs " Herculaneum "," Huskisson ", " Hornby ","Alexandra " and the" Hercules "
  • 5. • The British press were in favour of the ship and described her as " a twentieth Century ship in every sense of the word " and " the highest achievement of her day in the practise of ship building and marine engineering ".• Hundreds of workmen commenced the task of fitting her out. Electricians, plumbers and carpenters all played a crucial part. To the White Star Line, progress was too slow and poor. On the 2nd July 1914 they announced that Britannic would not be ready for her maiden voyage until early spring 1915. Amongst the reason for delay was finance. Harland and Wolff was owed £585,000 from the IMM which would have made all the difference to the progress if the money could have been used on the ship. The financial problem was so great that Britannic was not completed but left for nearly a whole year.
  • 6. WAR BREAKS OUT• In August 1914 Britain, France and Russia declared war on Germany and Austria-Hungary. This would have a dramatic effect on the life of the Britannic.• Both the Olympic and Britannic were placed together in secure holdings at Belfast. The owners knew that soon the ships would be called for government duty. Both ships remained in Belfast for ten months.• On the 13th November 1915, the Britannic was requisitioned by the British government as a hospital ship.• Orders were given to prepare her for sea going voyages to transport wounded soldiers back home.• The fixtures and fittings that were to be placed on the Britannic were stored for after the war. Instead she was fitted out to resemble a hospital. The first class dining rooms were converted into operating theatres and main wards. B deck would house the medical officers and other staff. The ship was fitted to carry 3,309 people.• Because she had stood so long at Belfast major works had to be carried out to her. Her lifeboats had not totally been installed. Only five davits had been fitted and so 6 Welin type davits were installed each could load one open and one collapsible lifeboat.• Also, her hull had to be repainted after standing in water for so long. It was painted in the internationally recognised colours of a hospital ship. A green band was painted on each side of the ship broken by three giant red crosses. This stood her out as a hospital ship providing her with safe passage to wherever she was going. She was given ship number 9618.• The Britannic left the Irish Sea on route to Mudros on 23rd December 1915. It was her maiden voyage, quite a contrast from the maiden voyages of her sisters. Her trip was successful and indeed made several more trips until her luck ran out.
  • 7. THE SINKING OF THE HMHS BRITANNIC• She left Southampton for her final voyage at 2.23 p.m. on the 12th November 1916.Captain Charles Bartlett (also known as the Iceberg Charlie) was given command again with his assistant Captain Harry William Dyke .• The ship steamed to Naples arriving on Friday morning (17th November). She took on board more coal and water as was the usual custom. Bad weather prevented an early departure. She was secured in Naples for two days until Sunday when Bartlett decided the weather was suitable for departure.• The passage seemed quite normal. Church services were held as normal to pray for the wounded and for the end of war.• At 8.00 a.m. on Tuesday 21st November, Bartlett changed course for the Kea Channel with Chief Officer Robert Hume and Fourth Officer D. McTowis on the Bridge. All seemed well.• Suddenly at 8.12 a.m. a loud explosion echoed around the ship. Reverend John A. Fleming , the Presbyterian Chaplain, onboard described the blast as " if a score of plate glass windows had been smashed together ."
  • 8. • Bartlett knew had had to act fast. He realised what had happened - an explosion between cargo holds 2 and 3. He also knew that the ships water tight skin extended as far as boiler room no.6 and that the blast had damaged the bulkhead between holds 2 and 3 and bulkhead hold number 1.• Bartlett ordered the watertight doors closed but the doors between boiler room 5 and 6 failed to close properly. Water travelled further aft as a result which would prove fatal to the ship.• It was a custom of the ship that during shift changes certain watertight door would remain open so that the crew could enter and leave the boiler rooms.• Within minutes of the explosion, water was poring in so much that the ship developed a serious list to starboard. The situation was becoming more serious by the minute. Within 15 minutes after the explosion, the portholes on E deck were under water. Unfortunately, many of them were open because the nurses opened them to let fresh air circulate the wards for the benefit of the patients. Because they were open they were letting in water which added to the emergency.
  • 9. • Meanwhile, Bartlett thought he would have enough time to beach the ship on the nearby island of Kea. However, the list to starboard and the weight of the rudder hindered the ships progress in the water. He realised that the ship would not make the coast and ordered the engines to be stopped and the lifeboats to be lowered.• A distress signal had already been called giving Britannics position. Help was on its way from the British destroyer " Scourge " and the French tugs " Goliath " and " Polyphemus ". The British auxiliary cruiser " Heroic " also replotted her course to join the rescue.• The lifeboats had begun to be lowered. Captain Dyke arranged the lowering of the boats on the starboard boat deck. Fifth Officer G. Fielding swung out two boats on the portside but left them hanging six feet from the water. He realised if he dropped them the ships great propellers would suck the little boat into her wake and destroy all inside the boat. Two boats left without permission and were destroyed by the propellers.• A remarkable story was told by Mrs. Violet Jessop , one of the stewardesses on board. She had infact been onboard the Olympic when she collided with the HMS Hawke and had also been onboard the Titanic. She seemed a very fortunate lady who had the same amount of lives as a cat. As she had seen the effect of the giant propellers twice before, she jumped from the lifeboat before it was sucked into the propellers. The suction was still to great and she was pulled in. However, for some reason she was not chopped to pieces but was thrown clear of danger and when she rose to the surface she hit her head on the lifeboat but was dragged to safety by survivors in another boat.
  • 10. • Like on the Titanic, the engineers remained at their posts until the last minute before escaping through the funnel casing of the fourth stack. Britannic had not long to live. She had already begun to keel over. Survivors in the boats could hear explosions coming from her inside.• Britannic finally rolled over at 9.07 a.m. There were 35 lifeboats and hundreds of people frantically swimming in the water.• In 55 minutes the 48.158 ton ship had sunk.• Bartlett swam to a nearby ship and quickly began co-ordinating a rescue mission to save those in the water.• At 10.00 a.m. the Scourge saw the lifeboats and started to pick up survivors. The Heroic was also on the scene and doing the same. She alone picked up 494 survivors. There was a total of 625 crew and 500 medical officers on board at the time of her sinking. A total of 21 crew and 9 Officers and men of the RAMC were killed in the disaster. A much lower ratio than her sisters in mortality rates.