Throwback Thursday: HMHS Britannic 1916

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Britannic Image One
Photo Credit: &

One-hundred, three years ago, today, the HMHS Britannic, sister ship to the RMS Titanic, sank in the Aegean Sea. On its way to pick up more wounded soldiers near the Gulf of Athens, a loud explosion shook the ship at 8:12am.

In the wake of the Titanic disaster on April 14, 1912, the White Star Line made several modifications in the construction of its already-planned sister ship. First, the name was changed from Gigantic to Britannic and the design of the hull was altered to make it less vulnerable to icebergs. In addition, it was mandated that there be enough lifeboats on board to accommodate all passengers, which had not been the case with the Titanic.

The nearly 50,000-ton luxury vessel was launched in 1914 but, was requisitioned soon afterward by the British government to serve as a hospital ship during World War I. In this capacity, Captain Charlie Bartlett led the Britannic on five successful voyages bringing wounded British troops back to England from various ports around the world.

Britannic Image Two
Postcard of the Britannic showing her intended purpose. Image Credit: & &

[Immediately after the explosion], Captain Bartlett ordered the closure of the watertight doors and sent out a distress signal. However, the blast had already managed to flood six whole compartments, even more extensive damage than that which had sunk the Titanic. Still, the Britannic had been prepared for such a disaster and would have stayed afloat except for two critical matters.

First, Captain Bartlett decided to try to run the Britannic aground on the nearby island of Kea. This might have been successful but, earlier, the ship’s nursing staff had opened the portholes to air out the sick wards. Water poured in through the portholes as the Britannic headed towards Kea. Second, the disaster was compounded when some of the crew attempted to launch lifeboats without orders. Since the ship was still moving as fast as it could, the boats were sucked into the propellers, killing those on board.

Less than 30 minutes later, Bartlett realized that the ship was going to sink and ordered it abandoned. The lifeboats were launched and even though the Britannic sank at 9:07, less than an hour after the explosion, nearly 1,100 people managed to make it off the ship. In fact, most of the 30 people who died were in the prematurely launched lifeboats.

In 1975, famed ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau found the Britannic lying on its side 400 feet below the surface of the Aegean.


Britannic Image Three
Image Credit: & &

Violet Jessop (who was also one of the survivors of Britannic’s sister-ship Titanic and had even been on the third sister, Olympic, when it collided with HMS Hawke) described the last seconds:

“She dipped her head a little, then a little lower and still lower. All the deck machinery fell into the sea like a child’s toys. Then, she took a fearful plunge, her stern rearing hundreds of feet into the air until with a final roar, she disappeared into the depths, the noise of her going resounding through the water with undreamt-of violence…”

Britannic was the largest ship lost in the First World War.


The cause, whether it was a torpedo from an enemy submarine or a mine, was not apparent. It would later be revealed that the mines were planted in the Kea Channel on October 12, 1916, by SM U-73 under the command of Gustav Sieß (German language link).


The Wreck
Britannic TV Film 2000 (fictional account)
BBC2 Documentary 2016

From the TV Film

15 thoughts on “Throwback Thursday: HMHS Britannic 1916

    the britchy one said:
    November 22, 2019 at 8:06 AM

    Wow that is pretty incredible, especially the bit about Violet Jessop. I was amazed she ever went to sea again!

      The Hinoeuma responded:
      November 22, 2019 at 4:38 PM

      She must have had nerves of steel. I’d be afraid of a bathtub after all that.

      The link to the BBC2 documentary has more of her quotes posted in the article.

    bayphotosbydonna said:
    November 22, 2019 at 8:12 AM

    Thank you for sharing this, Vic. I just got an email that the HMS Queen Elizabeth just came into port in Annapolis this week. They said this historical visit is creating a lot of buzz, watching this British Royal Navy aircraft carrier, the largest and most powerful warship the UK has ever had (I’m sure you know this fact!), traveling up the Bay and into port.

      The Hinoeuma responded:
      November 22, 2019 at 5:26 PM

      Actually, I didn’t know that. I’m fairly well versed on the US Navy, starting with an early boyfriend when I was teen (retired Fleet Navy, now), 12 years with a Marine Corps Master Sergeant and my, now, Fleet/Seabee veteran…plus my buddy, Ray (retired Fleet Navy). I’ve been swimming in the Dept. of the Navy for most of my life. Heh.

      Foreign Navies, not so much. The one thing I DO know about British carriers is, the plane runway is curved upwards. 🤔🤨🙄😁

      Must be there for joint training.

      The Hinoeuma responded:
      November 22, 2019 at 5:36 PM

      I should have read the article before remarking on reason. 🙄 International leaders meeting. You going for a tour? Ever been on board a carrier?

        bayphotosbydonna said:
        November 23, 2019 at 2:24 AM

        No, we’re not, and no, never been on a carrier. I would have loved to be out on our boat while this carrier was in the CBay. Our son has been on tours on a couple of them for work. He does research work for the Navy through Johns Hopkins APL in Glen Bernie MD, if you’ve heard of them. He is a missile rocket expert.

          The Hinoeuma responded:
          November 22, 2019 at 9:37 PM

          I looked up the APL. So, he is, literally, a rocket scientist. WOW. Awesome!

          I wish I had brains like that.

            bayphotosbydonna said:
            November 23, 2019 at 3:52 AM

            Hubby & I are still arguing where his brains came from…..I say me! 😉

    badfinger20 said:
    November 30, 2019 at 9:16 PM

    ” the boats were sucked into the propellers” what a horrible way to die. I’ve read where the craftmanship on these ships was great…unortunaley that does no good when they sink. At least they learned from the Titanic and it saved lives.

      The Hinoeuma responded:
      December 1, 2019 at 12:29 AM

      That part made me cringe. Even the Violet Jessup that was on all three ships suffered a head injury from having to jump from one of the boats.

        badfinger20 said:
        December 1, 2019 at 12:37 AM

        I was going to comment about her. I mean how unlucky can you get…well lucky also of course.

          The Hinoeuma responded:
          December 1, 2019 at 1:14 AM

          She was a head-scratcher. No doubt. Unlucky to be on board all three ships. Lucky enough to survive…and write about her experiences. Maybe she was one of those types of women with nerves of steel. IDK. Matter of perspective, I suppose…

            badfinger20 said:
            December 1, 2019 at 1:28 AM

            That takes Thrill Seeking to an extreme… I mean to get on yet another ship…of course she didn’t know it would happen.

              The Hinoeuma responded:
              December 1, 2019 at 2:53 AM

              Yeah. There is that adrenaline rush. Thrill seekers tend to not be afraid of things that would scare the shit out of most folks. It’s like their fear of death is non-existent…or, at least dulled.

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