RMS Britannic:A-Deck

Britannic's pipe organ

By Michail Michailakis

 According to the plans issued by Harland & Wolff, a pipe organ would be installed on A-Deck in front of the landing of the forward Grand Staircase. The organ would be hidden behind the wooden paneling and access to it would be possible through a small door placed under an archway. This archway would be decorated by two pillars supporting a very elaborate carving with a small white clock located in the centre. Above the clock would be placed two small statues holding something similar to a sphere. The paneling around the archway would be divided in two parts. The lower part (A-Deck level) would be quite simple while the higher part (Boat Deck level) would be a more elaborated carved screen allowing the passage of the sound produced by the organ.

 The description of this area is based on the two artistic impressions which can be seen below:

The image on the right was discovered by Günter Bäbler and comes from a product catalogue of Welte & Sons, a well-known manufacturer of pipe organs based in Germany. The caption identifies the organ as a Welte Philarmonie model installed on a big British liner. The comparison with the image on the left, seen in most books about the Britannic, leaves no doubts regarding the identity of the ship.

 In the 1986 sping issue of The Music Box, the official magazine of Great Britain's Musical Box Society, there was a photo of a Welte pipe organ with the following caption:

"A survivor of the ill-fated Titanic. Intended for the first class saloon this superb 250 pipe organ orchestrion on display at Bruchsal was made by Welte in Freiburg. Due to a delay in completion, the White Star Line flagship sailed many years ago on its maiden voyage without the organ.  It was acquired by Jan Brauers."

 This organ is currently on display at the Schloss Bruchsal Museum in Bruchsal, Germany. The proof of its connection with the Titanic would be a letter written by the wife of Karl Bockisch, brother-in-law of Edwin Welte (1876-1958). The two men were the developers of the Welte-Mignon reproducing piano in 1904 and one year later they started the production of music rolls, an invention that became very popular among music fans in Europe and America. In 1987 the Schloss Bruchsal Museum produced a CD, titled Musica Mechanica, containing a track played by the organ. The Musical Museum in Brentford, UK, has a similar Welte Orchestrion which is also claimed to be the one intended for the Titanic, although most pipe organ enthousiasts would vote for the organ in Germany.

The Welte Philarmonie Style 4 Salon Orchestion currently on display in Germany. It has about 250 pipes and 4 registers and works by means of a perforated paper roll. It is placed inside a mahogany case decorated with beautiful carvings.

(Schloss Bruchsal Museum)

 The problem with this story is that there is absolutely no evidence of an organ to be installed on the Titanic (or the Olympic after her refit). The Britannic was the only Olympic-class liner designed to have an organ onboard, however it is not known if it was ever installed. If Welte & Sons had indeed produced an organ for the White Star Line, then this was surely intended for the third sistership.



Special thanks to Günter Bäbler for sharing the image from his collection. The source of information regarding the Welte Orchestrion were the archives of the Mechanical Music Digest.

Promenade Cafe

By Remco Hillen

 My depiction of the Promenade Café contains some things that I like to explain:

-          The partition contains a door and 2 arched windows. I added the windows to let in some more sunlight and to give the people a better view aft

-          The door added on the right is in Café Parisien style (just seemed the most logic)

-          No chairs and tables have been drawn to give a better view of the area

-          A lot of lamps have been added to the ceiling, it should be a well-lighted area when sailing in the dark

-          The paneling on the walls is in Café Parisien style (again the most logic choice to me)

-          Lots of green and plants added, like the Winter Gardens on other liners

The drawing contains many things that I had to guess and it's not certain that this area would have been present on RMS Britannic at all,although a lot of things support this idea.


©2001 Remco Hillen


 This Promenade Cafe', as we named it, was brought to my attention by Mark Chirnside who read the following quote in The Shipbuilder :

‘On the promenade deck, a feature of the vessel is that the plating is carried up the side and has large windows to enable either a winter garden to be arranged or to provide a sheltered promenade.’ 

While I hadn’t heard of a Winter Garden before, on ships of this era, it was brought to my attention that several other ships had this feature (for example: Aquitania, Vaterland and Imperator). According to some photos, the Winter Gardens on these ships looked rather similar to the Café Parisien on Titanic; white paneling on the walls, airy and lots of plants.

 It was interesting that on RMS Britannic the Café Parisien was removed to accommodate a larger 1st Class Restaurant and Reception Room. It always wondered me why they removed this, as on Titanic it proved to be so popular that it was also added on Olympic’s during her first refit, in 1913. The quote from The Shipbuilder  proved to be very useful. Now we had an area where a replacement for the Café Parisien could be placed, on the enclosed parts of the Promenade decks. The most convenient place to us was on A-deck, starboard and next to the corridor leading from the forward Grand Staircase to the 1st Class Lounge.

 This place has many pros, supporting why the Café could be placed there: 

-          It’s near large 1st Class areas and the Grand Staircase

-          This place doesn’t cause much problems (disturbed view etc.) with the Staterooms a bit further forward on A-deck

-          An door to the corridor would supply an easy access to the Lounge for passengers and, last but not least, waiters (who might get the drinks from the Lounge)

-          Nice and airy place

-          While strolling the decks, people can walk by or sit down and take a drink

-          A partition from the end on the inclusion to the edge of the Lounge would seal this area completely off from the weather on the sometimes stormy Atlantic  

 A couple of months ago I noticed this partition mentioned above and I concluded it was an addition on the HMHS version in order to seal off the hospital ward, present at the enclosed parts of Britannic promenade decks. Rather strange things are that this partition doesn’t have a door in it, which seems rather inconvenient on a promenade deck, and that there’s no partition on the port side. Although the wounded were  treated  according to their status (ranks in this case)  like peace-time passengers, it doesn’t seem logic to place only one partition on the Promenade deck. It would have required just an identical partition on the other side. One asks, considering the hurry to get the vessel into action as a hospital ship, why would they add a bulkhead or take one out? It should be better to do the more important areas (like operation rooms) first and well-made, instead of quickly adding a bulkhead, which might damage the wooden decks and might even not be ready in time. The ‘strange’ fact that there seems to be no door in it, might be easily explained: in the Lounge area on A-deck many windows were still not cut out. This Café isn’t noted in any of Britannic’s plans but ,as on Titanic, many changes in this area were made while the ship had been already launched. It might be an addition that the designers thought of late and hadn’t included in the plans.

 My personal opinion about the ‘Promenade Café’ is that it sounds  like a rather plausible addition to RMS Britannic, a ship that was after all to become the Crown of the Olympic-Class. This extra Café should give passengers an extra room for their entertainment; you had to give people choices on such a vessel!


Special thanks must go out to: Mark Chirnside, Michail Michailakis and Rolf Vonk.