Originally developed to be the biggest of the White Star Trio of the Olympic class liners of RMS Olympic, RMS Titanic, and RMS Gigantic, the three were envisioned to be the largest and most luxurious ships ever to sail the oceans. At the time of the Brittanic's launch, the ship although the largest of the three Olympians, was not the largest passenger vessel, a distinction going to HAPAG's SS Vaterland.
Unfortunately, with the Titanic disaster came an onslaught of public and regulatory changes. In order to downplay the size of the ship, the name was changed to Brittanic. Other design changes were added safety features both visible and inside the ship.
Launched at the beginning of WWI, the ship never saw civil service, spending its career as a hospital ship. In November 1916 off the coast of Greece, the ship hit a German mine and sank, with minimal loss of life. The shipwreck was discovered in 1975 by Jacques Cousteau.
Titanic Inspired Changes
Originally designed to have identical dimensions as the two previous ships, the Brittanic utilized many features found on the Titanic, and added to the Olympic during refitting such as enclosed promenade spaces and verandas. However, the disaster of the Titanic also led to increasing the effectiveness of the watertight bulkheads, as well as adding mechanical davits to launch more than the required amount of lifeboats, making the Brittanic the safest ship afloat.
HMHS Brittanic During WWI
During the beginning of 1914, the Brittanic was nearing completion in Belfast at the Harland and Wolff shipyard, same one that build both sister ships Olympic and Titanic. Although transatlantic service continued, naval contracts at shipyards were given priority treatment in order to help with the war effort. Civil ships such as the Brittanic were slowed or stopped. Such was the case for the Brittanic.
At first, the British admiralty decided to arm ocean liners to become armed heavy cruisers. Although some success, it was quickly deemed that the large ships were too costly to utilize in this fashion. They quickly decided to instead use these as troop transports, shipping soldiers to wherever needed at the time. After the initial toll the war took on the troops, it was then decided that these large vessels were perfect to transform into hospital ships, providing critical field hospital needs to an ever expanding front line. It also was believed in the rules of war these vessels were immune from attack, with the white, red, and green paint treatment.
The HMHS Brittanic successfully completed 5 trips from the Middle East theater back to the UK saving thousands of lives, the hospital ship was en-route to Lenmos, the ship stopped in Naples, Italy to refuel and take on additional supplies. After waiting out a storm, the ship was able to leave port in a break in the storm and managed to continue on around Greece. On the morning of November 21, 1916 an explosion rocked the ship. Knowing that the ship was in trouble, Captain Bartlett decided to attempt to ground the ship and ordered full speed to the nearest shore. Unfortunately, this exacerbated the problem and the call was ordered to abandon ship. Of the 1,065 people on board, 1,035 survived.
The Largest Liner Shipwreck on the OceaN Floor
Located in 400 feet of water, the HMHS Brittanic wreck today is accessible to technical divers. However, determined to be a British War Grave, both British and Greek authorities need to provide clearance to visit the wreck.
Seemingly well preserved, the HMHS Brittanic wreck has the distinction of the largest passenger vessel on the ocean floor, now that the Costa Concordia has been re-floated for scrapping. Because the ship is almost 900 feet long, and the sea floor was only 400 feet deep, during the sinking, the bow of the ship sank first and hit the sea floor before the stern became submerged, shown in the image to the right, how the prow is severely bent up and the entire bow seems to be ripped off. The damage of the initial explosion is on the opposite side of the ship, buried between the hull and the seabed. Future scientific endeavors may send lidar, sonar, and xray submersibles to scan the shipwreck to determine the full extent of the mine explosion damage.