HMHS Britannic

His Majesty's Hospital Ship Britannic

Britannic in hospital ship livery

Britannic was the third and largest Olympic-class ocean liner of the White Star Line. The sister ship to RMS Olympic and RMS Titanic, she was launched on 26 February 1914 at the Belfast shipyard of Harland & Wolff. However, before Britannic was ready to enter transatlantic service as planned between Southampton and New York the First World War broke out in August 1914. Just over a year later, on 13 November 1915, Britannic was requisitioned for use as a hospital ship and was repainted white with a horizontal green stripe and large red crosses and was renamed HMHS (His Majesty's Hospital Ship) Britannic under the command of Captain Charles A. Bartlett.

Britannic completed five successful voyages to the Middle Eastern theatre in here role as a hospital ship and transported thousands of sick and wounded servicemen back to the United Kingdom before being laid up in April 1916 and decommissioned ready for refitting as a passenger liner. However, before her refit was completed she was recalled to duty and resumed here role as a hospital ship in September 1916.

Just two months later on 21 November 1916 Britannic was on here eighth voyage when she struck a mine off Kea Island and sank in less than an hour. Remarkably there were very few casualties and the small number of deaths that did occur resulted from the collision of two lifeboats with the ship's still turning propellers. At the time of the sinking there were fortunately no patients aboard and the majority of the some 1,125 crew and medical staff were rescued.

Some interesting facts:

Although the White Star Line always denied it, it is believed that Britannic was originally to have been named Gigantic.

On 21 November 1916 Britannic struck a mine in the Zea Channel, 4 miles west of Port St. Nikolo, Kea. The mine had been laid by the German submarine U-73 and caused an explosion on the starboard side of the ship below the bridge. At this point the water-tight doors failed to function and the forward part of the vessel began to flood.

A German newspaper, Keiler Zeitung, reported that Britannic had been torpedoed because she was being used as a troop carrier but this was later shown to be false when the log of the U-73 showed that the u-boat had laid mines in the area but had not fired on the ship.

The survivors from the Britannic were picked up by an armed merchant cruiser (Heroic) and two destroyers (Foxhound and Scourge) and strangely enough included two individuals who had also survived the sinking of the Titannic.