About the Britannic
The ship was one the fateful trio of great White Star liners; TITANIC, OLYMPIC and BRITANNIC. As the larger sister ship to the Titanic, she is important in an historic and archaeological sense. Moreover she remains relatively undisturbed, and offers one of the only available glimpses to the magnificence of the Trans-Atlantic Super Liners of the turn of the century. To date the only official visits to the wreck since her sinking in World War One have been made by Jacques Cousteau in September 1976 using bell based decompression diving techniques; Kostas Thoctarides in July 1995 in a solo technical dive; Dr Bob Ballard (of Titanic discovery fame) later in the summer of 1995 using submarines and robots; and more recently in October 1997 by a team of professional mixed gas technical divers led by Kevin Gurr.
HMHS Britannic at Mudros on 3rd October 1916 (National Maritime Museum)
HMHS Britannic was lost on only her 6th voyage while serving as a hospital off the island of Kea, about 40 miles south east of Athens, Greece on the 21 November 1916. She was on route to the Mudros on the Greek island of Lemnos to pick up Allied WWI casualties bound for Southampton, England. Of the 1,134 people on board, 41 were injured and 30 perished in the Kea channel. Tragically, the majority of those who died were killed when their lifeboats were sucked under by the still-turning propeller as the stern of the Britannic started to rise out of the sea.
The most likely cause of the explosion that ripped open her bow compartment was a mine laid by U73 as she passed through the area on the morning of the 28th October 1916. However this still remains unconfirmed despite the efforts of the previous expeditions
U-73 a long range mine-laying submarine (National Maritime Museum)
As with the loss of the Titanic, the Britannic sank after sustaining damage that she theoretically should have been able to survive with little difficulty. More surprisingly she sank in only 55 minutes, which was 3 times faster than the Titanic despite the many additional safety features that were included into her design following the Titanic disaster.
The Britannic was one of a number of hospital ships lost due to enemy submarine activity during World War One. These losses created outrage in the UK and proved of value in the propaganda war against the Germans. Germany claimed that these ships were used to transport military supplies and therefore were legitimate targets. The same claim was used to support the torpedoing of the Lusitania, with the loss of 1,198 innocent civilians on the 7th of May 1915.
The Britannic lay in the Kea channel undisturbed for 60 years until Jacques Cousteau ran an expedition to locate her from the Calypso in 1975. She was eventually found 6.75 nautical miles away from its charted position, which was quite a surprise due to its proximity to the Island of Kea. Did the British Admiralty have something to hide when they originally charted her position? How could it have been so wrong? There are many theories surrounding the reason why the Britannic sank so quickly. These range from coal bunker explosions, German sabotage, to a deliberate sinking by the British to gain sympathy from the Americans and entice them into the war.
The real reason why she sank is still not known. However, the most likely cause is thought to be that she hit a mine laid by U73. Technically she should have been able to withstand this single impact due to her enhanced water tight bulkheads (additional, stronger and higher compared to the Titanic). However, it is thought that the nurses may have opened many of the lower deck portholes to air the wards prior to picking up her next load of wounded soldiers at Mudros, and effectively negating the safety aspects of the bulkheads.