The third and final entrant of the Olympic-class trio was the vessel that we now know as the Britannic. She started life as Harland & Wolff Yard No. 433, and was originally to be named Gigantic[*], but by the time she entered service, she was a very different ship than her original plans had called for, and she also had a new name: Britannic.
The Britannic's first keel plate was laid on November 30, 1911 and work had not progressed far before the Titanic sank the following spring. All work on the third ship was put on hold pending the outcome of the Inquiries into the loss of the Titanic. When all was said and done, it became obvious that the new ship would need to be significantly altered in order to comply with post-Titanic safety requirements. Her transverse bulkhead subdivision was changed through the division of the Electric Engine Room and the raising of five critical bulkheads to the height of B Deck. An inner skin was also added, padding the important Boiler and Engine Rooms. Because of her increased beam and other design changes, her displacement did increase from that of her preceding sisters, coming in just under 53,200 at a draught of 34' 7". (At this same draught, the Olympic and Titanic each displaced 52,310 Imperial Tons of 2,240 lbs each.)
Above, large "gantry"-style davits were installed to carry the ship's complement of forty-eight extra-large lifeboats. (Note: For a discussion of the intended number of R.M.S. Britannic's lifeboats, please see the article found here.) There would be eight sets of these davits, all told: one on either side of the forward funnel, two on either side of the aft funnel, and two astern on the Shade Deck. (Only five sets had been installed when the ship entered service as a hospital ship.)
Improvements in the liner's first class accommodation were also intended, but in the end she would never see commercial service. The ship was launched on February 26, 1914 and was still fitting out when the Great War began.
Although many improvements were made to the Britannic over her older sisters, and her breadth was increased from theirs, one thing that did not change between the three sisters was their length between perpendiculars and their length overall. All three ships shared identical frame numbering and spacing, and bore the same fore-aft dimensions: 850' 0" bp, and 882' 9" oa.
On November 13, 1915, she was formally requisitioned as His Majesty's Hospital Ship Britannic. Apparently - according to the very latest research on the matter - she was given the Transport Identification Number G608.
She made three voyages to the
in this guise, and was then laid up on April 12, 1916. On August 28, 1916, the ship was recalled to active service. At this point, it seems likely that the ship was given her new Transport Identification Number, G618. The Britannic made two further voyages to the
. She set off on her sixth voyage from
on November 12, 1916. On November 21, she struck a mine in the
and sank in must 55 minutes - despite all of her safety improvements after the Titanic disaster.
Only thirty of the nearly eleven hundred on board died in the sinking, and most of those died when several lifeboats were launched prematurely and were sucked into the still-turning propellers. Ironically, the Britannic is much better preserved and much more accessible than her older, more famous sister Titanic. Because of increased interest in the Titanic during recent years, a surge of interest in all of the Olympic-class ships - including the Britannic - has been noted of late. Now, Titanic's "forgotten sister" is no longer forgotten.
[*]Jonathan Smith, a trustee of the TRMA, has posted new evidence helping to confirm that the ship's original name was, indeed, Gigantic. The article may be read here. Mark Chirnside and Paul Lee have also authored an excellent article on the subject, entitled: "The Gigantic Question," published in The Titanic Commutator, issue No. 180.
An early artist's depiction of the ship in her intended civilian scheme. ~ Author's Collection.
Before the Great War started, White Star's publicity department began to advertise the new liner. This illustration shows the liner as she would have appeared, had she ever been completed for peacetime service. ~ Author's Collection.
Two builder's models, one of the Britannic of 1914, on the left, and her namesake, the first Britannic, on the right. ~ Author's Collection.
The launch of the Britannic. ~ Author's Collection.
After the Britannic was launched at Harland & Wolff's shipyards, she needed to be fit out. All her machinery, including the boilers, being hoisted aboard here in this photograph, needed to be installed. ~ Author's Collection.
A rare and beautiful view of the Britannic in her guise as a hospital ship shows her fine lines, and gives some hint of how beautiful she would have been in civilian service. ~ Bruce Beveridge Collection, used with permission.
January 9, 1916: The H.M.H.S. Britannic enters Southampton for the first time, having just completed her first voyage as a hospital ship. ~ Author's Collection.
The photograph at left, of the Britannic entering harbor, colorized by the author. ~ Author's Collection
The Britannic arrives at Mudros Harbor, October 3, 1916. She would be sunk just the following month. ~ Author's Collection.
Britannic historian and enthusiast Michail Michailakis of the website Hospital Ship Britannic has just acquired this photograph of the liner taken in Mudros on October of 1916. This picture is one of only two photographs currently known to exist that clearly shows the Transport ID Number plaque underneath the Bridge. The first, taken in early 1916, clearly shows the number as G608.
As this enlargement of the original shows, the new photograph plainly tells us that in October of 1916, the Britannic's Transport ID Number had changed to G618.
It is apparent that her number jumped from 608 to 618 at some point during her career, most likely after her spring and summer of 1916 layup.
My sincerest thanks to Mr. Michailakis for his kind permission to reproduce this photograph for further availability to the public. Please do not reprint this photograph without the permission of Mr. Michailakis.
Voyages of the H.M.H.S. Britannic (M/D/Y):
before returning to