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Titanic's Sister Ship Exploded One Hundred Years Ago

By MarEx 2016-11-21 18:52:03

Brittanic, sister ship to the Titanic, was shaken by an explosion caused by an underwater mine off the Greek island of Kea on November 21, 1916. She sank just 55 minutes later, killing 30 of the 1,065 people on board.

Britannic was the third of the White Star Line's Olympic class of vessels. Built and launched after the tragic loss of the Titanic, she was converted into a hospital ship and made six voyages into the Mediterranean, evacuating thousands of wounded soldiers from the Eastern Mediterranean battlefields of World War II. 

At the time of her sinking she was the largest ship in the world in active service, and she remains the largest passenger vessel wreck on the sea floor.

After the loss of the Titanic, changes were made to Brittanic which was still under construction. These included an increase of the ship’s beam by two feet to ninety four feet to allow for a double hull along the engine and boiler rooms. A higher rated 18,000 horsepower (13,000 kW) turbine was added over the previous two vessels 16,000 horsepower (12,000 kW) ones to make up for the increase in hull width. 

Six out of the 15 watertight bulkheads up to B Deck were raised, and large crane-like davits, each capable of holding six lifeboats, were fitted. Additional lifeboats could be stored within reach of the davits on the deck house roof, and in an emergency the davits could reach lifeboats on the other side of the ship, providing that none of the funnels was obstructing the way. 

This meant that all the lifeboats to be launched, even if the ship developed a list that would normally prevent lifeboats being launched on the side opposite to the list. However, several of these davits were placed abreast of funnels, defeating that purpose. The ship carried 48 lifeboats, capable of carrying at least 75 people each. Thus, 3,600 people could be carried by the lifeboats, more than the maximum number of people the ship could carry.

Compared to the Titanic, the rescue of the Britannic was facilitated by the warmer water temperature (21 °C (70 °F) compared to −2 °C (28 °F) for the Titanic. Also, more lifeboats were available (35 were launched and stayed afloat compared to Titanic's 20) and help was closer to hand. It arrived less than two hours after first distress call compared to three and a half hours for Titanic.