February 26, 1914: HMHS Britannic is launched. She was the third and largest of the Olympic class ships of the White Star Line. The other two ships were the RMS Olympic and the RMS Titanic. Britannic was also supposed to be a transatlantic passenger ship, but like the others, fate was against her. She was laid down on November 30, 1911. She was launched on this day, just five months before World War I began. After the loss of the Titanic, changes were made in the design of the other two ships. Olympic’s changes were refitted, but with the Britannic, the changes were made prior to launching. This would make the ships less likely to suffer the same fate as the Titanic.
The ship was laid up at Harland and Wolff in Belfast – her builders – for many months after launch. When War was proclaimed, all shipyards with Admiralty contracts were given a priority which meant all civil contracts, including that for Britannic, were slowed. The government took over a large number of ships and armed them as merchant cruisers or for troop transport. The large luxury liners were not taken for military use since the smaller ships were easier to operate. White Star brought the Olympic in from service in November 1914 until the danger passed.
The need for increased tonnage became critical as operations extended farther afield. In May 1915, Britannic completed mooring trials and was prepared for emergency entrance into service. During that same month, the RMS Lusitania was lost at sea, the first major loss of a civilian ocean ship. In June, the British Admiralty began to use passenger liners as troop transports. As more soldiers were placed and the casualty numbers increased, a need for large hospital ships also grew. They were to be used for treatment centers and as evacuation transport. The Britannic was requisitioned as a hospital ship on November 13, 1915 and repainted white with a large red cross and a horizontal green stripe. She was renamed HMHS, His Majesty’s Hospital Ship and placed under command of Captain Charles Bartlett.
Britannic completed five successful trips to the Middle Eastern theater and back to the UK transporting sick and wounded. On November 12, 1916 she left Southampton for his sixth trip to the Mediterranean Sea. She made her first stop safely and waited for a storm to pass. She reentered the Med with 1,066 people aboard. At 8.12 AM on November 21, 1916, an explosion shook the ship. It is unknown whether it was an underwater mine or a torpedo. It was at first hoped the ship could be saved, but an evacuation was soon called for. People were being placed in lifeboats and at 8.35 AM, the captain gave the order to abandon ship. Bartlett gave the final whistle blow at 9.00 AM as a warning to the ship’s engineers. He was then swept overboard. The ship sunk at 9.07 AM, the largest ship lost in the War. Unlike the Titanic, only 30 people lost their lives.
You mustn’t be afraid of death. When this ship sailed, death sailed on her. – Charles Larkworthy
But all the love in the world won’t save a sinking ship. You have to either bail or jump overboard. – Sarah Dessen
I’d much rather be a woman than a man. Women can cry, they can wear cute clothes, and they’re the first to be rescued off sinking ships. – Gilda Radner
Often undecided whether to desert a sinking ship for one that might not float, he would make up his mind to sit on the wharf for a day. – Max Aitken
Also on this day: Waist Overalls – In 1829, Levi Strauss was born.
Grand Canyon – In 1919, Grand Canyon National Park was established.
WorldWideWeb Browser – In 1991, Tim Berners-Lee introduced his WorldWideWeb browser, the first stable web browser.
World Trade Center – In 1993, the WTC was bombed.
Colored Movies – In 1909, Kinemacolor was first shown to the public.