Loading Britannic Gantry Lifeboats


Bob Read

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Mar 3, 2002
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After studying the catwalk structure around the
lifeboats that were under the gantry davits I have wondered how they were loaded? To enter the boats from the catwalks and ladders on them
one would have to be rather adept. If we are talking about a hospital ship, there's just no way you could load patients in these stacked boats in place. I'm wondering if they were lowered to the deck just inside the bulwark then
loaded then raised over the bulwark then down to the sea.

The boats that were added amidships and used Welin davits also have a structure that I have yet to identify. Several feet inboard of the outboard bulkhead for each boat there is something that I can only describe as looking like a hitching post. It has a post at each end and a rail between them. It is approximately waist high. Does anyone know its purpose?

Regards,
Bob Read
 
Jul 11, 2001
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Hi Bob, I can't say how well or not they worked, but apparently they did in the Britannics case. Most designers never get to see how well their lifeboat design works in a "real Life" situation, just in life boat drills. Those Gantrys are certainly the ugliest ever put on a ship but I don't recall reading any reports of trouble using them when the Britannic used them.

The Gravity drop design like used on the Queen Mary and others seems like the best way. Keep them up and over thus out of sight until needed. Plus I believe the Queen Marys boats could be lowered by only one crewman, not a team.
 

Bob Read

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David:
It is hard to say how well Britannic's gantry davits actually worked. At the time of the sinking they were not anywhere near their capacity of of casualaties. I do know that the davits worked. My question was what actual procedure would have been used to load casualties. The aft gantries had lifeboats on one tier stacked three high. The only access to the very top boat was by what looked for all intents and purposes like a step ladder. What I'm saying is that in the forest of boats and catwalks there couldn't have been room to carry patients on stretchers. I was wondering if they
brought the boats down to a loading area with better access.

During the Titanic disaster there was some trouble loading people in the forwardmost boats because of the intervening bulwark. On Britannic, unlike Olympic and Titanic, The boat deck bulwark extended the full length of the boat deck. Injured would have to have been hoisted over this bulwark unless the boats in the Welin davits were brought inboard of the bulwarks. Even if they had, the side of the boat was almost as high as the bulwark anyway so you really wouldn't accomplish much. With so many lifeboats on Britannic, somebody had to have given thought as to how to load patients who could only be borne on stretchers or who were on crutches. I have never seen any description of how that was accomplished either for the gantry davit boats or the Welin davit boats.

Regards,
Bob Read
 
Dec 2, 2000
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Bob, in terms of casualties, they probably had a plan if only to make it look like they could do more then they could have in a real world accident. Ambulatory patients probably wouldn't have had that much of a problem, but those unable to move themselves...well...if there weren't people willing to bear the stretchers to the boats, they would have been what we call S.O.L. (S**t Outta Luck.) in the Navy.
 

Steven Hall

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Dec 17, 2008
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"but those unable to move themselves...well...if there weren't people willing to bear the stretchers to the boats, they would have been what we call S.O.L. (S**t Outta Luck.) in the Navy."
Yep - that's about right Michael.
I've always thought those Gantry Davits would have been later removed and replaced with the standard version.
If I was to do a model on Britannic - I would use the standard Olympic, post Titanic arrangement.
 

Remco Hillen

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Jan 6, 2001
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Hello,

Here are two quotes which give an indication how it was done: "After swinging out two his lifeboats, (in this case one Officer was responsible for two sets of gantry davits; 5th Officer Fielding had the port side; Ass. Commander Dyke starboard - RH), Fielding later remembered a group of stewards and a dozen or so sailors who where assigned to him promptly rushing to get into them, ..... , Fielding managed to coax his working party back on board to stand by their stations, before lowering the boats to within a few feet of the water." (Hostage to Fortune, page 131)

"(He, Fielding) was about to hook up Britannic's port motor launch when First Officer Oliver and Colonol Anderson arrived with orders to take the launch .... Scout, James Vickers, was also with them, .... As he stepped into the boat he trapped his foot between the ship and the side of the five-ton launch,.." (Hostage to Fortune, page 134).

Judging from this, the lifeboats were taken from the positions first, lowered to Boat-deck level (outboard) and were then filled and lowered.

Does anyone else have some more/different thoughts?

Regards,
Remco
 
Sep 26, 2009
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The first boat was lowered to the Boat Deck for filling with passengers, then lowered to the water. The gantry davit would then winch the two falls back up and then hook on another of the stacked lifeboats. Then it would be lowered to the Boat Deck where the loading procedure would continue as described above. The gantry davits were designed to work even if the ship was listing and they worked well, evacuating the ship in less than an hour. The only casualties in the Britannic's sinking is when one of the lifeboats got mangled in one of the ships spinning propellers. Of course, there was no wounded on the ship during the sinking, because the Britannic was sailing to Mudros to pick up wounded. Only medical personnel and crew were on the ship when she sank. Robert H. Gibbons
 
Jan 14, 2001
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Bob,

You are right regarding the step ladders on the davits. In fact, they are still visible today (NatGeo 2003 documentary).The loading procedure described above by Robert is quite accurate.The account of a Britannic Officer (possibly Fifth Officer Fielding) confirms it. I think that the davit wasn't fully extended outwards before loading the lifeboat. Then the lifeboat would be lowered for some meters in order to reach the level of the Boat Deck. Judging from the available photos there was enough deck space in order to evacuate the stretcher cases safely during a "normal" evacuation (without heavy list ecc). After loading the lifeboat the davit would be fully extended outwards in order to be lowered to the sea.

However, the operation of the gantry davits remain still not completely clear. The account of the Britannic Officer states that the ill-fated lifeboats left the ship without permission -through the use of an "automatic release gear"- and crashed violently on the water.

In addition, Scout H.Pope states in his account:

"Three sick bay attendants were drowned through one of the boats being dropped by the stern, while the bow was held up to the davit."

I thought that this wasn't possible but I was wrong. In Steve Hall's and Bruce Beveridge's new book 'Olympic and Titanic: The Truth Behind The Conspiracy' we read that:

"..the wire hawsers were wound on drums attached to the same shaft for the level lowering of the boats, but could also be worked independently if needed"

It seems that in their panic the crew members who activated the "automatic release gear" also blocked by accident one of the drums.

Hope to be of some help.

Best regards,
Michail Michailakis
 
Jan 14, 2001
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Take also notice that one pair of gantry davits of the same type were also installed on two Union Castle liners, the "Windsor Castle" and the "Arundel Castle". The davits were later removed from both ships during a refit. However, it is interesting that the crew of the "Arundel Castle" was not so enthusiastic about the davits because "in an emergency they would never have been launched because in practice attempts it took hours to get them out". Judging from the Britannic experience perhaps they should do more practice
happy.gif


For more detailed information regarding the operation of the gantry davits check this link below (there is also a good photo of the "Windsor Castle"):

http://www.hospitalshipbritannic.com/rms_boatdeck.htm

Michail
 

Bob Read

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Guys:
Thanks for all the input. One area nobody ventured a guess on was the question about the function of the "hitching posts". These were the posts with a rail between them inboard of each of the Welin based lifeboats.

Regards,
Bob Read
 

Noel F. Jones

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May 14, 2002
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"Thanks for all the input. One area nobody ventured a guess on was the question about the function of the "hitching posts". These were the posts with a rail between them inboard of each of the Welin based lifeboats."

I was waiting for others to opine or perhaps for a picture or diagram.

In the absence of further information I can only conjecture that these erections may have been anchorages for the tricing lines. Tricing lines (handy billies), deployed fore and aft, hold the boat in against the shipside so as to keep it steady for safe transbarkation.

Noel
 

Bob Read

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Noel:
Here is a photo which shows the "hitching post" like structures inboard of the Welin mounted
lifeboats. Immediately outboard of them are the collapsible lifeboats on deck. I have tried to place an arrow indicator to the structure I am referrring to but it doesn't show up too good.
If you look inboard of the structure there is a shadow of the structure on the deck which more accurately portrays its structure. Your idea as a post from which to belay tricing lines seems like as sound an idea as I have heard, given that unlike Olympic and Titanic, these boats had to be loaded over a 42 inch bulwark.
Here's a link to the photo:
http://webpages.charter.net/bpread/photos/hitch.jpg

Regards
Bob Read
 

Noel F. Jones

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Rather elaborate for tricing line anchorages, I would have thought. A simple lug set into the deck would suffice. In any case, bowsing in the boats for embarkation only has function at the embarkation deck. Was the boat deck the embarkation point for these boats?

Or could these erections simply have been barriers to keep people back from the boat operations?

Otherwise, I'm out of ideas.

Incidentally, it is most unusual for a ship to have bulwark rails at boat deck height. Has it been determined that these bulwarks were not of the drop-down design?

Noel
 

Bob Read

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Noel:

I would normally agree with you that these posts would have been rather elaborate for securing tricing lines. The difference with Britannic is that these boats in Welin davits were not part of the original design. They were added during conversion to a hospital ship. With the exception of the emergency cutters which were the forwardmost port and starboard boats on Olympic and Titanic, there were no bulwarks outboard of the lifeboats. In the Britannic situation, rather than eliminate the bulwark where these boats in Welin davits were placed, they just left the bulwark in place. They stowed the lifeboats suspended by their falls with the keel just above the bulwark. The boat would have to be lowered so the gunwales were at the height (42 in.) of the intervening bulwark. Later regulations specify that if a boat has an intervening bulwark like this that an inward opening door in the bulwark must be placed so people don't have to get over a bulwark to get into a boat. I have seen no indication of any openings in the bulwarks like this on any contemporary Britannic plans. To make the loading of these boats even more difficult, collapsible lifeboats were placed on the deck directly inboard of the bulwark. How one crawled over a collapsible then a bulwark into a
lifeboat seems difficult under the best of circumstanses. The only other wild guess I have had is if they had some sort of gangway that could be placed from this "hitching post" to the bulwark. In this case a small ladder would allow one to ascend to the ganway. The person could then walk directly to the bulwark without any interference from the collapsible lifeboat below. Possible? Maybe. Likely? Unknown.

In analyzing the Britannic disaster it seems clear that they had sufficient lifeboat capacity.
It also seems clear that they never envisioned a situation where wounded would have to be loaded onto boats in an expeditious manner. If the boat had been full of wounded during this incident I fear that the name Britannic might be better known than Titanic due to a loss of life that might have far exceeded Titanic's even with
supposed improvements in lifesaving.

Regards,
Bob Read
 

Noel F. Jones

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I get the impression that LSA was put aboard to make up the numbers without much thought having been given to its actual deployment in a real emergency.

But then that seems to be the general consensus in this topic.

Noel
 

Bob Read

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Noel:
One would have thought that after the Titanic disaster and the problems they had with loading boats that for a military vessel that very detailed procedures which would be well drilled would have been the order of the day. It seems as if the thought of a hospital ship sinking rapidly was about as far from peoples' conceptions as striking an iceberg was before Titanic. I guess that's why hindsight is 20/20.

Regards,
Bob Read
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>It also seems clear that they never envisioned a situation where wounded would have to be loaded onto boats in an expeditious manner<<

Well, in fairnes, they may have but it could have been seen as an insolvable problem, and I don't know that anybody's figured it out even today. Ambulatory patients at least would have had a sporting chance, but woe betide the poor bloke in a coma or who was unable to move. Somebody in a cast would have had quite a time getting up topside even with help.

>>It seems as if the thought of a hospital ship sinking rapidly was about as far from peoples' conceptions as striking an iceberg was before Titanic.<<

Actual wartime experience notwithstanding, some parties may have thought that a hospital ship would be immune and clung to that fantasy. Even when it was becoming obvious that some sub drivers were using the green stripe and the red cross as a visual targeting reference.
 

Noel F. Jones

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I don't wish to protract this discussion unnecessarily but this seems to impinge adversely upon basic seamanship. That is, any design shortfall in provision for emergency evacuation should have become apparent upon exercising the crew at boat stations.

Which prompts me to ask: do we have any record (such as the deck log or parallel reports) of boat drills undertaken after the vessel was released from the shipyard after conversion?

Presumably she would then be a military vessel rather than one operated under the auspices of the Merchant Shipping Acts. Under the MSA a BOT inspector would have been in attendance and we might have had the benefit of his report. Can we conclude that a cavalier Admiralty dispensed with such stringencies?

I would be inclined to search the ADM records at the PRO for some record of the vessel's inauguration as an HMHS.

Noel
 
Jan 5, 2001
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Hello Noel,

Forgive me for not following this thread as I have not been reading this board lately. However, in answer to your question there are reports of the boat drills conducted onboard Britannic as a hospital ship -- as recorded in the crew manifests. I have read these, and I don't remember running across any reports of problems.

Best wishes,

Mark.
 

Bob Read

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Mark:
I don't know how military lifeboat drills compared to merchant practice but if they were comparable then they were perfunctory. There seemed to be a greater emphasis on whether the davits actually worked and could lower a boat rather than a comprehensive plan for evacuation.
We can see this clearly in the Titanic disaster.
One only has to look at the arrangement of equipment to see that the evacuation of hundreds of non ambulatory patients into lifeboats would have been very difficult at best. Who would be assigned the task of carrying stretchers of the wounded up stairways? Female nurses? I doubt it. I don't think the actual military staff on board was very large. Most of them probably were medical personnel and certainly not able bodied seamen. It may have been one of the most fortunate events of the war that the ship was not carrying wounded at the time of the sinking.
Even without wounded to contend with, those on board if they had indeed been drilled did not execute the evacuation very efficiently. Add large numbers of wounded below decks and I fear there would have been disaster on an unprecedented scale.

Regards,
Bob Read
 

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