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Saturday, June 18, 2011

THE HMHS BRITTANIC - THE FORGOTTEN SISTER

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The Britannic was a ship that held many achievements throughout the early 100’s. Her resume is highlighted by her unique size, her ability to assist many individuals in need, and the mystery of her destruction.


The unique nature of the Britannic relates in great deal to her size. The Britannic was the largest and sister ship to the Olympic and Titanic, although it never ran on the North Atlantic. According to Gary Arnold, her structure included a double skin, giant sized lifeboat davits, and water tight bulkheads that extended as high as the B deck. She had a gross tonnage of 48,158 tons and her dimensions roughly measured to 85 feet by 4 feet. She was made out of steel and had a service speed of 1 knots. She could accommodate 70 first class passengers, as well as 86 second class and 5 third class. Archbold and Ballard state that the White Star Lines was originally to be called Gigantic, but White Star chose the name Britannic to be patriotic with Europe on the brink of war. This ship was to be the most luxurious of the trio. The first class reception room was to be grander that the ones on Olympic and Titanic ever were or would be, the A la Carte Restaurant and First Class Smoking Room were to be expanded, and they were even planning to grace the forward grand staircase with an elegant pipe organ. The Britannic was definitely a larger than life mode of transportation.


The Britannic is honored for her ability to assist many individuals in need during the early period of World War One. The Cunard Archives explain that she was launched on February 6th, 114, and was to begin her commercial life servicing the Southampton to New York route in the spring of 115. However, she was requisitioned by the admiralty to be converted into a hospital ship in November 1th, 115, because of the outbreak of World War I. She was officially ready for war service on December 1th, 115 and was commissioned His Majestys Hospital Ship Britannic (HMHS Britannic). Under the command of Captain Charles A. Bartlett, she took on a medical staff of 101 nurses, 6 orderlies, 5 officers, and a crew of 675 people in Liverpool on December 1th, 115. Archbold and Ballard state that the Britannic was commissioned as a hospital ship by the British Admiralty and her lavish interiors were converted into dormitories and operating rooms. The first class reception room and dinning saloon became an intensive care ward. Places like the first, second, and third class lounges, smoking rooms, and dining saloons became dormitories. The beautiful promenades would be used as airy hospital wards. And her luxurious state rooms became doctors’ offices and hospital rooms. Complete with a green stripe and six red crosses on her hull, on December 1, 115, Britannic was ready for war service. She began her maiden voyage on December rd, 115 where she teamed up with the Aquitania, Maurentania, and her sister ship Olympic in Mudros on the isle of Lemnos in what was called the Dardanelles Service. These four ships were later joined by the Statendam to form a team of ships that could transport ,000 troops and 17,000 sick and wounded. Since these ships were so large, smaller ships were required to ferry wounded from the battlefront docks. Karl Metelko states that Christmas was celebrated on the Britannic as she sailed for her coaling port of Naples, arriving on 8th December, 115. Once coaled, she departed on the th of December bound for Mudros in the Aegean Sea. She spent four days at Mudros seeing the start of 116 and taking on ,00 wounded and sick military personnel. Archbold and Ballard detail that on Britannic, there was a routine that everyone had to follow. Patients had to be gotten up at 600 am so that the wards and beds could be cleaned. Breakfast was served at 70. After eating, the staff had to clean the dinning rooms. The captain would inspect the ship at 1100 to make sure everything was running smoothly. At 10, lunch was served, and after that, the wards and dinning rooms had to be cleaned again. Tea was served at 40 and at 80, patients were put to bed. At 00, the captain made one last inspection of the ship before going to bed. In between meals, patients would be treated for whatever wound or illness they had. If they werent scheduled for any treatment, those who were well enough would be allowed to go on deck and get some fresh air. The Cunard archives detail the Britannic returned to Southampton on January th, 116 where her patients were transferred to waiting trains for transportation to hospitals in London. The second voyage was shorter as she only sailed as far as Naples where she took on wounded and returned to Southampton on February , 116. The third voyage was just as uneventful. She spent four weeks as a floating hospital off the Isle of Wight, Cowes. Following this service, the Britannic returned to Belfast on June 6th, 116 and was released from war service. Harland and Wolff started refitting her for Royal Mail and Passenger service once again, but work was halted when the Admiralty recalled her to war service and she once again returned to Southampton on August 8th, 116. Britannic began her fourth voyage on September 4th, 116 with members of the Voluntary Aid Detachment on board. The ship returned to Southampton on October 11, 116. Voyage number five was the Southampton, Naples, Mudros trip where over 000 wounded were transferred to waiting trains. The Aquitania had suffered damage in the same storms and was laid up for repairs, and because of this Britannic was ordered to start her sixth voyage after only four days in port.


The mystery of the Britannic’s destruction is still pondered upon in our recent times. Don Lynch explains that Tuesday, November 1, 116, was a perfect day. At about 800 am, the crewmen who worked down in the boiler and engine rooms were changing shifts. To make changes like this quicker, the officers sometimes opened the water tight doors for a short time. There was a nurse by the name of Sheila Macbeth who first noticed that something was wrong. The passengers on the ship noted that there was a loud bang followed by a vibrating rumble. Historians arent sure but Britannic either struck a mine (laid by German U-boat, U-7) or was torpedoed. The ship began sinking and Captain Bartlett ordered the operators to send out distress signals. At this time, the captain tried to beach the ship on Kea Island which was only two miles away. When he did this, he pushed more water into the hole in the ship causing more harm than good. The crewmembers quickly launched the lifeboats and out of the approximate 1066 people onboard, all were saved but thirty. Gary Arnold notes that the reason that she sank has never been totally resolved, some say she was torpedoed but it seems more likely that she struck a mine. Archbold and Ballard explain that there are two possibilities for the rate of her destruction. First, the portholes had all been opened by the nurses to air the ship before taking on her wounded and second, the watertight doors were open making it easier for the crew to go about their duties. The Britannic sunk in a little under fifty-five minutes. Several ships came to rescue the survivors including the HMS Heroic and the HMS Foxhound. The passengers were taken to Malta where they waited in the local hospital until they would be taken back to England. Lynch details that the Britannic lays now on her side in 5 feet of water. The accident was forgotten for many years because there were so many survivors, and with the war’s happenings the sinking was overshadowed. The wreck of the HMHS Britannic was discovered in 176 on an underwater exploration by oceanographer, Jacques Cousteau.


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The magnificent, young to perish Britannic was never to carry a paying passenger. She was never to cross the Atlantic. She was never to earn her place on the transatlantic route. Instead, she was the largest ship sunk in World War One, and is the largest liner on the ocean floor. She has now been named a heroine of WWI due to her fantastic size, her transport of injured soldiers and her mysterious dive to the ocean’s floor.





Sources


Archbold, Rick and Robert Ballard. Lost Liners. http//members.aol.com/WakkoW5/britannic.html.


April 7, 00.


Arnold, Gary. “The Titanic Resource”. http//www.titanicresource.8m.com/sister.htm. 1-00.


April 8, 00


Cunard Archives. Monsters of the Sea The Great Ocean Liners of Time. http//www.ocean-liners.com/ships/britannic.asp. Wednesday, April 0, 00


Lynch, Don. Titanic; An Illustrated History” ill. Ken Marschall. 1st printing. NY Hyperion. 1. http//www.titanicbooksite.com/author%0pages/lynchdon.html April , 00.


Metelko, Karl. 001 WebTitanic. http//www.webtitanic.net/frameBritannica.html. April 8, 00.


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