Britannic100: "Ship Of Dreams Sunk"

Britannic100: "Ship Of Dreams Sunk"

A century ago today - 21st November 1916 - Titanic's bigger sister ship hit a German mine. The collision was fatal.

Until 2003 one of the questions concerning the sinking of the Britannic "was she torpedoed or did she hit a mine"? The 2003 Spencer Expedition found and mapped the German minefield. Exped leader Carl Spencer later co-founded EUROTEK with fellow expedition members Leigh Bishop and Rosemary E Lunn

HMHS Britannic was the largest ship to sink during World War I. (Weighting in at almost 50,000-tons she was also the largest ship in the world).

Many argue she is one of the most beautiful, intact, well-preserved passenger liners accessible to divers. It is little wonder that these factors, and the story behind her construction and sinking continue to capture divers imagination.

Britannic's keel was laid on 30 November 1911, hence she was still being built when her smaller, more famous sister tragically sunk on her maiden voyage. The loss of the supposedly 'unsinkable' RMS Titanic during the early hours of 15 April 1912, had a huge impact on the owners of the White Star line and the British maritime industry.

The Belfast shipbuilder Harland and Wolff quickly adopted a 'safety-first' approach, and amended the design of the Olympic class liner.

Today we expect as standard that ships carry enough lifeboats to safely accommodate all passengers. When Titanic sunk it had enough lifeboats for just 1,178 people. It took the loss of (approximately) 3,327 souls for 'lifeboats for all on board' to be mandated. Britannic's deck was soon festooned with large davits, each capable of holding six lifeboats.

Other modifications included tweaks to the design of the hull. The ships beam was increased to allow for a double hull along the engine and boiler rooms. In addition six out of the 15 watertight bulkheads were raised. But despite the improvements Britannic sank three times quicker than Titanic.

Britannic was born at the wrong time because she was launched on 26 February 1914 - five months before the outbreak of WWI. She therefore did not see service as a transatlantic passenger liner. Instead the British Government requisitioned her, refitted her and repainted her. Her hull was painted white complete with large red crosses. Her role was to carry sick and injured troops home from Gallipoli.

On her sixth and final journey Britannic was steaming along the Kea Channel in Greece. At approximately 08.12 a violent explosion rocked the ship. Captain Bartlett immediately ordered the closure of the watertight doors and sent out a distress signal. However, the blast had already managed to flood six whole compartments. As the ship listed, water poured through scores of portholes that the nursing staff had opened earlier to ventilate the ship. Bartlett's plan to run the ship aground on Kea was consequently doomed.

There have been a number of documentaries and books about HMHS Britannic. The latest book - 'Mystery of the Last Olympian' - has been co-authored by Richie Kohler. Richie has dived this Olympic class liner in 2006, 2009, 2015 and 2016. He answers the century-old question as to why all the engineering solutions built into the mighty Britannic could not save her from sharing the same fate as Titanic.