The Golden Era of Transatlantic Voyage: HMHS Britannic – Titanic’s less known sister ship

Titanic’s sister had a similar fate

We all know the story of the ill-fated Titanic. It has been the subject of movies, books, and documentaries. RMS Titanic sank on her maiden voyage after colliding with an iceberg in the Atlantic on April 14th, 1912. 1,500 lives were lost.

But, we will not tell the story of the Titanic. The Britsh ship had another two sister ships. RMS Britannic and RMS Olympic. The White Star Line, the company that owned Titanic, commissioned another two similar vessels. They were called Olympic-class ships, and from the trio, only Olympic enjoyed a long career, being in service for 24 years from 1911 to 1935. She served in the First World War as a troopship, and she gained the nickname Old Reliable. After the war, she was returned to civilian service and served as an ocean liner.

The third sister is the RMS Britannic. Similar in size and shape to the Titanic and Olympic, Britannic served only for a brief time. Therefore, her story is not as well known.

Britannic was the third and the last liner in the Olympic-class trio of liners built by Harland and Wolff, in Belfast, Northen Ireland. The keel was laid down on November 30th, 1911, and she was completed on December 12, 1915. Although she was destined to be an ocean liner, the start of the First World War meant she entered service as HMHS Britannic, a military hospital ship.

Following the loss of Titanic, several design changes were made to the remaining Olympic-class liners. With Britannic, the changes were made before the launch. Besides the structural changes and a slightly larger beam, Britannic had an additional 18,000 hp turbine and 48 lifeboats, capable of carrying 75 people each.

Britannic was 269m long and a height of 53m from the keel to the top of the funnels. Two four-cylinder triple-expansion reciprocating engines each producing 16,000 hp were used to spin the outboard triple-blade propellers, while the low-pressure turbine producing 18,000 hp was turning the center four-blade propeller. Cruising speed was 21 knots, while the maximum speed was 23 knots.

After her sea trials, Britannic was prepared to enter service, but the First World War started. The British Admiralty already requisitioned RMS Mauretania and RMS Aquitania from Cunard to be used as troop transporters in the Gallipoli campaign. Casualties mounted, so Britannic was converted to a hospital ship. She was painted white with large red crosses and a horizontal green stripe.

She completed five voyages to the Middle Eastern Theatre, but her sixth voyage was ill-fated. Britannic departed Southampton for Lemnos, Greece on November 12, 1916. She arrived in Naples, Italy on the 16th for refueling. She left after a few days and by the morning of November 21st, she was steaming in the Kea Channel.

With 1,065 people on board, Britannic hit a mine planted by a German submarine. The captain sent an SOS message, while the ship started to list. The shores of the Greek island of Kea were in sight, so the captain pointed the ship in that direction and tried to beach the ship under power. He ordered that no lifeboats should be launched, but two of them hit the water without proper authorisation. They drifted to the turning propellers and were torn to pieces together with their occupants. The captain ordered the full stop to avoid other victims. He issued the order to abandon ship.

55 minutes after the explosion, Britannic sank. 1,035 survivors were rescued from the lifeboats and the water. 30 souls were lost.

Don't miss the other episodes:

Ep. 1 SS United States – The Record-Breaking Ocean Liner

Ep. 2 Queen Mary, the Classy British Ocean Liner

Ep.3 SS Normandie, the Fastest French Liner

Ep. 4 Bremen – The Rigorous German Liner