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“Women and bedsteads first!”
“I am becoming a pro at this ship sinking business”
HMHS Britannic lies today at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea. With the right diving equipment (a mini submarine), you can visit her today. You won't find any gold, luggage or a safe containing nude drawings of Kate Winslet. Instead your likely haul will be old medicine bottles and rusty camp beds.
Britannic sank in World War One when her hull struck a German mine off the Greek Island of Kea in 1916. Built as a luxury liner to partner the White Star cruise ships RMS Olympic and RMS Titanic, the Britannic was instead enlisted to support the British war effort. Though her hull had allegedly been improved to bounce off passing icebergs, she wasn't designed to absorb the shock of setting off a mine. The Britannic was essentially a 'coffin ship', apt as passengers on the day she went down were wounded soldiers involved in the Gallipoli campaign.
The RMS Britannic was originally designed to be 'queen of the fleet', a ship that would have taken on board (literally) all the design changes and tweaks that her owners had first tried out on the Olympic and Titanic. Then the ship was actually called Gigantic, perhaps to have been followed later by new liners to be named Bombastic and Hyperbolic. In the end the First World War intervened and stopped any further passenger liners being built. By then the Gigantic had already been renamed the Britannic and now a patriotic paint job to show Britain was serious about fighting. Unfortunately no other substantial changes were made to the ship's structure. She was a floating tomb. A moronic non-decision had been made.
edit Design changes
Since the Britannic never made it to commercial service, stories about her far and few compared to her more famous sister ships. She wasn't meant to be a ship that could be converted into an auxiliary cruiser (as the river Cunard ships were designed), her general size and bulkiness would have made it an easy kill for a U-Boat. Instead the Britannic was painted a brilliant white with giant red crosses painted on her side and on the decks so that any passing Zeppelin would use her as a target practice. It is just a shame that no one bothered to program the mines not to explode when in contact with a non-combatant vessel.
edit Mine meld
The Britannic came into hospital service in December 1915. The enormous vessel had been stripped of anything fancy and came across as strictly utilitarian. The interior was just long rows of beds with some cabins reserved for officers and gentlemen to recover from their wounds in relative peace. Since this was a hospital ship, it had plenty of volunteer nurses hoping to do their 'national bit'. One woman in particular caught enough attention from others on the ship, for White Star stewardess and now retrained as a nurse, the relative veteran Violet Jessop who had been involved in two accidents with on her previous ships. The first one was when the RMS Olympic ran into a British cruiser (and stayed afloat) and when the RMS Titanic collided with an iceberg (and sank). Jessop said three was her lucky number and she wasn't a jinx and then kicked a large box of black kittens.
On 21st November 1916 the Britannic was in Greek waters, not far from that nice restaurant in Athens we found on our last holiday. It was a relatively warm morning for that time of year and the portholes had been opened to let the air circulate and the screams of the wounded and damage be dispersed upon the water. Captain Josiah Bartlett was in command of the ship. He had spent many long years on the North Atlantic routes and since the sinking of the Titanic, had been obsessed with German submarines disguised as icebergs. He had his crew on iceberg watch which is why the missed a recently deposited mine floating around the island of Kea in the Aegean Sea.
- Captain Bartlett: We have hit an iceberg!
- First Officer: I think it is a mine Captain.
- Captain Bartlett: No that was definitely an iceberg. Can you see it??
- First Officer: I think respectively, you're wrong.
- First Engineer: She's doomed! We're taking in sea water in all compartments!!
- Captain Bartlett: No..no, she can't sink. Steer for the nearest beach!
- First Mate: Shall we send flares?
- First Officer: I prefer bell-bottoms.
- Captain Bartlett: First Class Passengers evacuate now. Gentlemen, take out your revolvers.
- Ship's cat: Rescue me if you want to stay lucky punk!
Britannic tried to make it towards the beach but in the panic, no one had time to close the portholes. Water gushed in. Frantically the ship's crew and hospital staff lowered the lifeboats or jumped into the sea (at least that was an improvement on the Titanic experience. The Britannic lost steam and like a fly about to go down a plug hole, circled around a spot out to sea with her bow now filling up fast. The cry of abandon ship was heard and those who could, jumped in.
The ship was only about a third full when it sank. Considering most the 'passengers' were patients with literally bed-bound, only 30 people went down with the Britannic. Violet Jessop wasn't one of them, like a cork she could always float. Captain Bartlett was also rescued but never given command of anything bigger than a tug boat. The Germans got the blame for their 'barbarism' for dropping mines in front of hospital ships. The Germans in return said the ship was carrying arms, the beds were actually dissembled artillery pieces. Since the ship had sunk so deep, no one could check.
The Britannic was barely mentioned after the First World War. Its story wasn't as dramatic as the Titanic so no one made a movie about the sinking until 2000 and then they decided to sex it up with German spies/saboteurs blowing it up instead of an inert mine or suspicious iceberg. The film was a flop.
The Britannic remains rusting away, on the bottom of the sea and in better shape than any of her sister ships. Perhaps she will be re-floated one day.