1916

Throwback Thursday: HMHS Britannic 1916

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Britannic Image One
Photo Credit: wikipedia.org & wikimedia.org

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: wikipedia.org & wikimedia.org & ibiblio.org

[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.

[Source]

Britannic Image Three
Image Credit: wikipedia.org & wikimedia.org & titanicstation.blogspot.com

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.

[Source]

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).

[Source]

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

From the TV Film

Flashback Friday: HMS Hood 1941

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HMS Hood Image One
HMS Hood
Pennant Number 51
Image Credit: rowehistory.blogspot.com

Seventy-eight years ago, today, the last battlecruiser of the Royal Navy, the HMS Hood, was sunk during the Battle of Denmark Strait by the German Kriegsmarine battleship Bismarck.

From Wikipedia:

One of four Admiral-class battlecruisers ordered in mid-1916, [she was] commissioned in 1920 [and] named after 18th-century Admiral Samuel Hood. Despite the appearance of new and, more modern ship designs over time, Hood remained the largest and most powerful warship in the world for 20 years after her commissioning. […] her prestige was reflected in her nickname, “The Mighty Hood”. She was scheduled to undergo a major rebuild in 1941 to correct [some] issues but, the outbreak of World War II in September 1939 forced the ship into service without the upgrades.

In May, [she and] the battleship Prince of Wales were ordered to intercept the German battleship Bismarck and, the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, which were en route to the Atlantic where they were to attack convoys. When Bismarck sailed for the Atlantic […], Hood, together with […] Prince of Wales, was sent out in pursuit along with several other groups of British capital ships to intercept the German ships before they could break into the Atlantic […]. Hood was commanded by Captain Ralph Kerr and was flying the flag of Vice-Admiral Lancelot Holland. The German ships were spotted by two British heavy cruisers (Norfolk & Suffolk) on 23 May and Holland‘s ships intercepted Bismarck, and her consort, Prinz Eugen, in the Denmark Strait between Greenland and Iceland.

Bismarck Image Two
Bismarck
Image Credit: pinterest.com

On 24 May 1941, early in the Battle of the Denmark Strait, less than 10 minutes after the British opened fire, a shell from Bismarck struck Hood near her aft ammunition magazines. Soon afterwards, Hood exploded and sank within three minutes, with the loss of all but three of her crew. Prince of Wales continued to exchange fire with Bismarck but, suffered serious malfunctions in her main armament. The British battleship had only just been completed in late March 1941 and used new quadruple gun turrets that were unreliable. [She] soon broke off the engagement.

Due to [the] perceived invincibility of the Hood, the loss affected British morale.

From The History Channel:

On this day in 1941, Germany’s largest battleship, the Bismarck, sinks the pride of the British fleet, HMS Hood.

The Bismarck was the most modern of Germany’s battleships, a prize coveted by other nation’s navies, even while still in the blueprint stage (Hitler handed over a copy of its blueprints to Joseph Stalin as a concession during the days of the Hitler-Stalin Neutrality Pact). The HMS Hood, originally launched in 1918, was Britain’s largest battlecruiser (41,200 tons) but, also capable of achieving the relatively fast speed of 31 knots. The two met in the North Atlantic, northeast of Iceland, where two British cruisers had tracked down the Bismarck. Commanded by Admiral Gunther Lutjens, Commander-in-Chief of the German Fleet, the Bismarck sunk the Hood, resulting in the death of 1,500 of its crew. Only three Brits survived. Captain Kerr was one of the casualties.

During the engagement, the Bismarck‘s fuel tank was damaged. Lutjens tried to make for the French coast but, was sighted, again, only three days later. Torpedoed to the point of incapacity, the Bismarck was finally sunk by a ring of British war ships. Admiral Lutjens was one of the 2,300 German casualties.

Having grown up listening to Johnny Horton, one of my favorite songs of his is, of course, Sink the Bismarck, released in 1960 (a #1 single in Canada). ~Vic


 
Lyrics
In May of 1941 the war had just begun
The Germans had the biggest ship that had the biggest guns
The Bismarck was the fastest ship that ever sailed the sea
On her decks were guns as big as steers and shells as big as trees

Out of the cold and foggy night came the British ship the Hood
And every British seaman he knew and understood
They had to sink the Bismarck the terror of the sea
Stop those guns as big as steers and those shells as big as trees

We’ll find the German battleship that’s makin’ such a fuss
We gotta sink the Bismarck ’cause the world depends on us
Yeah hit the decks a runnin’ boys and spin those guns around
When we find the Bismarck we gotta cut her down

The Hood found the Bismarck and on that fatal day
The Bismarck started firing fifteen miles away
We gotta sink the Bismarck was the battle sound
But when the smoke had cleared away the mighty Hood went down

For six long days and weary nights they tried to find her trail
Churchill told the people put every ship asail
Cause somewhere on that ocean I know she’s gotta be
We gotta sink the Bismarck to the bottom of the sea

We’ll find the German battleship that’s makin’ such a fuss
We gotta sink the Bismarck ’cause the world depends on us
Yeah hit the decks a runnin’ boys and spin those guns around
When we find the Bismarck we gotta cut her down

The fog was gone the seventh day and they saw the morning sun
Ten hours away from homeland the Bismarck made its run
The Admiral of the British fleet said turn those bows around
We found that German battleship and we’re gonna cut her down

The British guns were aimed and the shells were coming fast
The first shell hit the Bismarck they knew she couldn’t last
That mighty German battleship is just a memory
Sink the Bismarck was the battle cry that shook the seven seas

We found the German battleship ’twas makin’ such a fuss
We had to sink the Bismarck cause the world depends on us
We hit the deck a runnin’ and we and spun those guns around
Yeah we found the mighty Bismarck and then we cut her down

We found the German battleship ’twas makin’ such a fuss
We had to sink the Bismarck cause the world depends on us
We hit the deck a runnin’ and we and spun those guns around
We found the mighty Bismarck and then we cut her down