Belfast Ships: The Britannic

Last of Belfast’s Olympic class liners. The Britannic never operated as a luxury cruiser, becoming a hospital ship in 1914. Sailing through the narrow Kea channel in November 1916, the Britannic sunk with 30 fatalities. Whether it was torpedoed or ran into a mine is still debated today.

After the sinking of the Titanic, work on the third and final Olympic class liner in Belfast stopped. Harland and Wolff and the White Star line wanted to implement changes that would make the ship safer, such as increasing the number of life-boats. The ship also was not named Gigantic, as originally planned, but became the Britannic.

Finally, on February 26, 1914, the Britannic was launched. But before it could start its regular run to New York in the spring of 1915, the admiralty requisitioned it as a hospital ship. It operated in the Mediterranean, taking casualties from the fighting in the Dardanelles and bringing them back to England. {PAGE BREAK}

After three successful runs, the Britannic left Naples on November 21, 1916, bound for Mudros. Sailing through the narrow Kea channel, there was a huge explosion on the starboard side of the bow. It started to sink and two lifeboats were lowered while the ship was still moving forward at speed. When they hit the water, the suction of the hull drew them into the stern of the ship and into the churning propellers, killing all 30 people. These, however, were the only casualties and all other passengers managed to escape safely. Whether the Britannic was torpedoed or ran into a mine is still debated today.

The Britannic lies in nearly 122m of water. It was discovered by the French underwater explorer Jacques Coustea, largely intact, in 1976.

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