A Brief History
On November 21, 1916, the new and improved version of the Titanic became the largest ship sunk during World War I!
Digging deeper, we find the third of the Olympic class ocean liners having been built after the Olympic and Titanic and actually being a bit bigger, incorporating new design features to prevent a disaster like the 1912 loss of Titanic.
Entering service in December of 1915, she was almost 900 feet long and displacing 53,000 tons, the Britannic was fitted as a hospital ship for wartime service and was carrying 1066 souls on the fateful day. Sailing in the Aegean Sea the mighty vessel was on her 6th wartime voyage. Shortly after 8 am the giant ship shuddered from a massive explosion, never positively identified, but most likely from a mine or a torpedo.
Despite upgraded safety features, such as watertight bulkheads raised much higher than Titanic’s and a large part of the hull being doubled, the doomed ship sank in only an hour. Usually such quick sinking leads to massive loss of life, but the one of improvements that did work well concerned the lifeboats, with increased capacity (3600, more than enough!) and improved launching equipment. The lessons learned from the Titanic disaster resulted in the loss of only 30 lives (of 1066 on board). For a wartime sinking, that is pretty impressive.
Of course, the relationship to the Titanic creates even more notoriety than usual, and with it goes the rumors and myths of the ship being somehow cursed. A popular rumor is that the ship’s name was slated to be Gigantic, and was changed because of the sinking of the Titanic. Actually, this rumor is not true and the Britannic’s name was decided on prior to the 1912 disaster. For such a huge and expensive ship, a lifespan of less than 2 years is not much return on investment! At least it made a few voyages and did not sink on its maiden voyage like its more famous sister. Still, the ship took 5 years to build and served just under 2; not so good. At least the first of the 3 enormous Olympic class ships, the Olympic, served safely for 24 years and escaped the fate of her sisters.
Question for students (and subscribers): Was the Britannic a valid military target? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information on these three massive ocean liners, please read the following:
Chirnside, Mark. Olympic, Titanic, Britannic: An Illustrated History of the Olympic Class Ships. The History Press, 2012.
McCluskie, Tom, Michael Sharpe, et al. Titanic & Her Sisters Olympic & Britannic. Thunder Bay Pr, 1999.
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