Monday, May 25, 2009
Another tragedy befalls the Britannic
The sister ship to the Titanic, RMS Britannic, had a short and sad life.
She was completed just as World War I broke out, and never sailed in passenger service. In 1915 the British Government requisitioned her for conversion to a hospital ship, and the rest of her short life was sailed as His Majesty's Hospital Ship (HMHS) Britannic. The two photographs and artist's impression below show her after conversion.
During 1916 Britannic completed five voyages between Britain and the Middle East, ferrying wounded from the Gallipoli campaign and the fighting in what is today the area occupied by Israel, Jordan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, where British forces and their local allies engaged the Turkish Army.
At 8.12 a.m. on November 21st, 1916, while on her sixth voyage to the Middle East, Britannic hit a moored mine off the island of Kea in the Aegean Sea. She sank within an hour. Fortunately, almost everybody aboard was saved, the only casualties being from two lifeboats that were launched without orders and drifted into the huge ship's propellers. Britannic was the largest ship to be sunk in the First World War (she displaced some 53,000 tons).
The wreck of Britannic was rediscovered by French marine archaeologist Jacques Cousteau in 1975. Since then, she's become something of a Mecca for deep-diving enthusiasts. She lies at a depth of about 120 meters (about 400 feet), and is thus accessible to those using ordinary scuba gear, provided they breathe a special air mixture. She's classified as a war grave, so permission to dive on her is required from both the British and Greek Governments.
The wreck is in remarkably good condition, particularly compared to that of her sister ship, RMS Titanic. Below is shown a spiral staircase in the bow of Britannic, used by her crew to get to and from the upper deck.
Here's a side-scan sonar image of the entire wreck, as it lies on its starboard side. Click the image for a much larger view.
Today comes the sad news that a member of the latest expedition to Britannic, Mr. Carl Spencer, was killed during diving operations. He apparently contracted the so-called 'bends', or decompression sickness, and could not be revived.
It's sad that another life has been claimed over this sad wreck . . . but I guess as long as the urge to explore such pieces of maritime history continues, we'll find others taking the same risks, and sometimes paying the price for them.