HMHS Britannic

World War I hospital ship and sister ship to Titanic. Sunk by a mine in 1916 killing 30.
by Matthew Anderson


Year Built

1915

Year Sank

1916

Depth

400 ft (121.9 m)

Difficulty Level

Technical


HMHS Britannic

Wreck Location

The coordinates above were provided for public use by Latitude.to.

Britannic 
lies in 400 feet of water in the Kea Channel; a strait of water between the island of Kea and island of Makronisos in Greece. Britannic's depth makes her an advanced to technical diving site. Currents can be an issue while diving Britannic, but the benefits of the Olympic-class behemoth outweigh the frustrations and provide a worth-while dive.

~ GPS Shipwreck Location ~
Latitude:   37° 42' 5.0004" N      Longitude:   24° 17' 2.0004" E

Description

HMHS Britannic

Britannic was an Olympic-class ocean liner built in 1914 for the White Star Line at the Harland and Wolff Shipyards in Belfast, Northern Ireland originally called Gigantic. She was the sister ship to the Olympic and ill-fated Titanic. Due to being the sister ship of the latter, the name Gigantic was renamed Britannic almost immediately. Despite tell tale records of her original name surfacing, White Star Line and Harland and Wolff continued to deny Britannic was to ever be named Gigantic. In order to avoid comparison with her sunken sister, Titanic, an overkill of safety features was added to Britannic, including a double hull and capsizing resistant gantry davits. Unlike TitanicBritannic could survive sideswiping an iceberg and could remain afloat with her forward six compartments flooded; an amazing feat of safety and engineering unseen on any passenger ship today. She was also to boast the highest standard of luxury yet seen on an Olympic class liner, let alone any vessel of the White Star Line, inculding a pipe organ in her Grand Staircase. The pipe organ was never installed, but remains preserved and in operable condition to this day. The construction of the Britannic was overseen and managed by her future master, Captain Charles Bartlett. She was launched in 1914, two years after the Titanic sank. Before she could be used for passenger service on the North Atlantic, World War I began and halted her construction midway indefintely. Her sister ship, Olympic, was drafted as a troop transport almost immediately. In 1915, the British Admiralty agreed to finance and complete most of the Britannic's construction on the condition that she was to be drafted into hospital ship duty by the Royal Navy and registered as HMHS Britannic G610. She was later re-designated G618. Her hospital ship duties were to tend soldiers wounded in the failed Gallipoli campaign in Turkey, at the time known as the Ottoman Empire. Britannic made six successfull voyages between Greece and Southampton, transporting thousands of wounded soldiers back to safety.

In November 1916, Britannic left Southampton on her seventh voyage as a hopsital ship. It was to be her last. On November 28, 1916, she struck a German mine laid by submarine UC-75 off the island of Kea. The explosion jammed two of her water tight doors open allowing all six forward compartments to flood. Open portholes in the bow left open quite carlelessly were pushed underwater causing a seventh compartment to flood. Britannic's wireless aerials were damaged and though able to send distress calls, were unable to recieve them. Captain Bartlett drove the sinking Britannic towards shore refusing to let his ship which he had overseen construction of and had lovingly operated sink. Unfortunately, two lifeboats were launched into the water without his permission leading to the horrific death of 30 people when the boats were sucked into the rising propeller blade and minced. Captain Bartlett was unaware of this until after the ship had sunk. Captain Bartlett stopped the engines and ordered everyone save for a few crewmembers and himself to leave the ship. 33 lifeboats were launched safely taking well over 1,000 people off the ship. Once this had been done, Captain Bartlett started the engines again and forced Britannic towards shore, her bow almost completely underwater by now. The massive in rush of water overtook the ship, leading to Captain Bartlett and his remaining crew to very reluctantly abandon her. Within the next few minutes, only two and a half miles from shore, Britannic slipped under the waves. Captain Bartlett tried to keep Britannic from sharing the same fate as her ill-fated sister, but his actions of driving the doomed vessel towards Kea made her sink faster, going down in 55 minutes. Her fantastic safety features however made sure 1,035 of her 1,065 occupants got off unharmed. Two of the lifeboats aboard were motorized and were used to help search for further survivors. Captain Bartlett never sailed another vessel, most likely devastated by the loss of his precious Britannic.

November 2016, marked the 100th anniversary of the Britannic's demise. Multiple documentaries of high quality were released by the BBC, U-Films and the video game team producing "Titanic: Honor and Glory". Unfortunately, interior diving has been banned by the Greek government, limiting any 100th anniversary diving.

Despite her sudden and partially violent sinking, Britannic is in incredible shape. So much so that it pleasantly surprised Dr. Robert Ballard, the oceanographer and professor who discovered the Titanic, when he visited the wreck site for the first time. Britannic's excellent condition had attracted many divers, historians and Titanic enthusiasts to her location, as the wreck of Titanic is badly destroyed in comparison and Britannic offers a better visual insight in to the design of the Olympic-class liners. Furthermore, Britannic, being at 400 feet deep is far more accessable than Titanic is to many is the closest they can get to the ill fated liner. That said, all four funnels have separated from the superstructure and are lying flattened in various places, thankfully the No. 1 funnel being close to its former position on the wreck. The bow is broken and lying at an angle but isn't in terrible shape. The break at the bow is a mixed blessing as it allows people to explore the boiler rooms of the vessel. Also visible are several of the unique giant gantry davits and red cross symbols. The ship lies on its side, giving divers quite an interesting perspective. The wreck was first discovered and explored by famous French underwater explorer Jaques Cousteau in 1975. The wreck is currently owned by British historian Simon Mills, but is governed and protected by the Greek Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities, which tends to be overly strict at times.

Footnotes

Britannic still retains the record of being the largest shipwreck on the ocean floor. Other larger ships have sunk but almost all larger wrecks were either partially destroyed in sinking reducing their size to less than that of Britannic, or were scrapped and removed. Britannic's entire hull and superstructure remain in existence helping to protect her title.

Violet Jessop was a nurse aboard Britannic. She survived both the sinking of the Titanic and the Britannic. Her head was badly inured in the sinking of the latter and helped cause miss Jessop to lose her hair.




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