In the second instalment in a series of guest blogs, Jake and Joanna here take us through the differences that the hospital ship Britannic had compared to her sister ships Titanic and Olympic.
The Britannic is best known as the sister ship of the RMS Olympic and the RMS Titanic along with being the third and final luxury liner of the White Star Line’s Olympic class. Construction began on the Britannic on November 30, 1911, with her launch on February 26, 1914. At 883 feet in length, she was intended to be the largest and grandest of the three ocean liners. That all changed with the start of World War I, when she was recommissioned as a hospital ship in 1915. The HMHS Britannic departed from Liverpool on her maiden voyage on December 23, 1915.
Sadly, the Britannic, never saw any of the luxurious design upgrades and never saw a day of service as a passenger liner. Instead, she was transformed into a hospital ship. Many modifications were required including the public rooms on the upper decks being converted into wards for the wounded. Lower on the ship, the large First Class dining room and the reception rooms became operating theatres and main wards. The medical personnel would occupy the B-deck cabins, while the medical orderlies and the less critically wounded patients would be accommodated on the lower decks. From the evidence shown by some surviving photos, we know that the partially enclosed First Class promenade was used as patient wards as well. In order to be recognised as a hospital ship, the Britannic was painted white with a green stripe down the side of the ship broken by three red crosses. Green lights were also fitted to the side so she could be easily determined as a hospital ship at night, and she was also fitted with two big red crosses on both sides of her boat deck that light up at night. The Britannic could carry 3,309 casualties.
On November 21, 1916, the Britannic was in the middle of her sixth voyage when an explosion disrupted a beautiful Sunday morning in the Kea Channel just off of the coast of Greece. The Britannic had struck a mine, and the explosion warped her steel and jammed the bulkhead doors in full open position. Despite all of the additional safety modifications, the Britannic sank in about 55 minutes in comparison to the 2 hours and 40 minutes that it took her sister ship Titanic to sink. Only 30 lives were lost that day with more than 1,030 lives saved, while Titanic’s casualties were much higher with the loss of 1,496 lives and only 712 lives saved.