Sunday, August 2, 2020

The Britannic Sinking - By Jake Billingham

In part 3 of Jake Billingham's articles, he describes the turn of events that culminated in the Britannic ending up on the bottom of the Kea Channel. 

The Britannic stopped at Naples for her usual Coal and water refuelling stop on November 17th.

A storm prevented her from departing Naples until that Sunday afternoon. Then Captain Bartlett made the decision to take his chances as there was a break in the weather but just as they left the sea rose again but by the next morning the storm died down again and the Britannic passed the strait Messina.

Britannic struck the mine low on the starboard bow between 2 and 3 holds at 8:12am November 21, 1916.

The force of the explosion damaged the watertight bulkhead between boiler room 1 and the forepeak. That meant that the first four compartments were flooding. The explosion caused a gas bubble lifting the Britannic’s bow coursing the hull to flex,Whipping the foremast and breaking some of the connections between the mast and the wireless transmitter in the ships silent room. This meant that the Britannic could still send out distress messages but could not receive a reply.

The firemen's tunnel connecting the firemen's quarters in the bow with boiler room 6 had also been seriously damaged and water was flowing into that boiler room.

The explosion warped her steel and twisted her frame a little which caused the bulkhead door between boiler rooms 6 and 5 to fail in closing.

The doctors had left the portholes open on E deck so water was able to flood the compartments that had not been compromised by the mine explosion.

The nurses and doctors and chaplins sat down for breakfast when the mine was struck, and all the cutlery seem to dance and fall to the ground and smash.  The matron told them to put their lifejackets on and get to the boat deck.

Captain Bartlett, in his pyjamas, came to the bridge and set a course to make for the Kea Island in an attempt to beach the ship. For some reason, the Britannic’s steering gear wasn’t responding so they had to use the engines to try to steer the ship. 

The Captain hadn’t given the order to abandon ship, but some of the stokers,who were in the bowels of the ship, decided to launch two of the lifeboats.  One of the occupants was Titanic survivor Violet Jessop, but as the lifeboats were launched the port propeller was on water level and still turning. The two small lifeboats were pulled into the turning propeller smashing the lifeboats killing many of the occupants in the lifeboats.

8.35 a.m. Captain Bartlett noticed the rate of the ships sinking had quickened, and he gave the order to abandon ship and for the engines to be stopped.

8.50 a.m. Captain Bartlett noticed the ship’s sinking had slowed, so he gave the order to start up the engines again in his final desperate efforts to save his beloved ship.

9.00 a.m. Captain Bartlett ordered the engines to be stopped for the final time.

With six watertight compartments flooded the Britannic had reached her full capacity.  Unable to stay afloat, the ship took a server list to starboard, and the forecastle deck was underwater.  The sea rising fast towards the bridge.  The captain, still in his pyjamas, gave two final blasts of the ships whistle. As the ship was rolling over onto her starboard side, Captain Bartlett walked off the starboard wing and swam into the sea.

Britannic rolled over on her starboard side with her funnels falling off like chimneys over into the sea. The Britannic was nearly 883 feet long, and she sank in approximately 400 feet of water.  The bow struck the sea floor as the stern was still on the surface, and the Britannic’s stern vibrated and slid slowly beneath the sea to her final resting place.

9.07 a.m. HMHS Britannic has gone.

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