The Titanic had a Sister Ship that Also Met an Untimely End
There are only two days left this week and that means there are two more history lessons to go. Today’s subject is closely related to one of my favorite historical subjects, the sinking of the RMS Titanic. Did you know that that the Titanic had a sister ship? Actually, she had two but one, as you are about to find out, has a distinct similarity. Here is your history lesson number 3.
The Story of the Britannic
During the early 1900s the English shipping company, the White Star Line, decided to construct the biggest and most luxurious ships in the world. These would be known as Olympic class ships. The purpose of these ships was to escort passengers across the North Atlantic in a luxurious fashion and in a timely manner. The first three ships were the Olympic, Titanic, and Gigantic (which was renamed Britannic after the sinking of the Titanic). All you really need to know about these Olympic class ships is that only one, the Olympic, was profitable and the other two more or less helped in the company’s eventual failure. Also, that at first all of the Olympic ships were promoted as unsinkable. History tells us otherwise.
So, what were the problems with the Titanic and Britannic? Well, obviously we know that the Titanic struck an iceberg and sank in the North Atlantic on April 15, 1912. It is still one of the most infamous shipwrecks in world history. What you may not be aware of is that the Britannic met the same fate as her sister and sank in 1916. However, the circumstances of her sinking are much different.
The Britannic was launched on February 26, 1914. She was a bit bigger than her sister and equipped with a few more safety features like more lifeboats and watertight doors. However, she was never used for commercial travel because of the outbreak of WWI. In 1915 the Britannic was converted into a hospital ship. She completed five successful voyages of bringing wounded British soldiers back to England.
Unfortunately, on November 21, 1916, the Britannic met her fate. At 8:15 a.m. there was an explosion that caused six compartments to flood with water. The ship’s captain, Charles Bartlett, thought he could beach the ship before it sank and he had the ship go full speed toward Kéa Island. However, he was unaware that some of the ship’s portholes had been opened, and as the ship went toward the island the portholes filled with water causing the ship to sink faster.
Another interesting detail to this story is that a few crew members took it upon themselves to abandon ship before being given the order. What ended up happening was these early lifeboat launches were caught in the propellers of the ship. Since the Britannic was moving at full speed the lifeboats could not get away from the ship and were inevitably sucked in. Most of the casualties of the shipwreck were from this incident.
In just under an hour after the explosion, the Britannic sank to the bottom of the ocean. Luckily, over 1,000 people were able to escape and were eventually saved by nearby ships. At first, it was unclear as to whether it was a torpedo from a German U-Boat that caused the explosion or a mine. Eventually, it was ruled that a mine was the cause because it was discovered that German U-Boats had placed mines in the area a month prior to the sinking.
So, now you know that the Titanic was not the only ship of its kind to meet an untimely end. Though the Britannic sinking is not nearly as tragic as her sisters she still has her place among infamous shipwrecks. It’s just crazy to think that two ships that were supposed to be the blueprint of luxury travel ended up being tales of misfortune.
Sources: History.com, MollyBrown.org, Britannica.com