On November 13, 1915, Britannic was requisitioned as a hospital ship by the British Admiralty to serve between England and the Mediterranean. It was planned that she would receive the sick and wounded from the Dardanelles campaign.
Her original use was intended to be a luxurious ocean liner that would dominate the transatlantic service. After her requisition many changes were made, including alterations to many of her passenger accommodations.Many spaces were converted, mostly into wards and operating theatres.
All of her luxurious fittings were replaced by basic hospital interiors. Britannic was also intended to have eight pairs of gantry-type davits for her lifeboats, but, due to her being rushed into hospital service, only five pairs were fitted. These had been supplemented by six pairs of Welin-type davits on both sides of the ship’s boat deck and two more pairs of Welin davits on her poop deck.
Britannic’s paint scheme also had to be changed to the internationally-recognised hospital colours: a white hull with a large, green band that went around the side of her hull broken by three red crosses. Her boat deck was equipped with large red crosses that were illuminated at night with green spotlights added to both sides of the ship. Her funnels were painted yellow.
On December 23rd, 1915, Britannic left Liverpool, around 20 minutes after Midnight, on her first trip out as a hospital ship. The ship presented a problem for one of the doctors onboard, Dr. Goodman. He had been put in charge of 426 beds on wards F, L, M, and V. These wards were at the forward end of the vessel, on the starboard side, on F and G Decks. The good doctor reported that two of his wards were “taking on water.” and that the water was coming from a leaking porthole. There also appeared to be a broken back pressure valve in the ship’s water tank.
It is clear that both Britannic and Titanic had very eventful maiden voyages, as if something was going to happen to them. Much like Britannic, Titanic’s maiden voyage was fraught with omens as she left the dock. When coming out of port in Southampton the Titanic nearly collided with the SS New York. Quick thinking prevailed, however she sadly sank on April 15th, 1912, killing 1496 passengers. Just like Titanic, Britannic’s very clear omen foreshadowed her fate. Less than a year later, Britannic would strike a mine, and end up on the bottom of the Aegean Sea.
Another warning of foboding came in January of 1916, while Britannic was outbound to Southampton when a man came onto the bridge and informed the crew that he had seen a patient jump overboard. Unfortunately, due to the war, they could not stop the vessel to search the sea for the patient that had jumped. Stopping would’ve put the ship, and everyone on it, at risk of attack even with the Britannic’s protected status. They performed a search of the ship to see if everyone was accounted for and the conclusion was that Samuel Jones, of the Royal Battalion Regiment was missing. He was presumed lost at sea.
In June 1916, Britannic was released from hospital service and sent back to Harland and Wolff to start the process of converting her for passenger service. The British Admiralty paid the White Star Line £76,000 as per agreement for her use. However, by August 28, 1916 the Britannic was once again requisitioned as a hospital ship.
On November 21st 1916 she was sailing in the Kea Channel and headed for the clearing stations of Lemnos. At 8:12am, Britannic struck a mine laid by U-73, and 55 minutes later the Britannic sank beneath the Aegean Sea with the loss of 30 lives.
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