News from 1916 The Sinking of Britannic II

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Mark Baber

Jul 4, 2000
The New York Times, 23 November 1916

Giant White Star Liner Torpedoed Off Island of Kea, in Aegean Sea
Two Submarines at Once Attack the Ship and Islanders Hurry to the
Vessel Was the Titanic's Successor and the Largest British Passenger
Ship Afloat
Special Cable to THE NEW YORK TIMES
LONDON, Thursday, Nov. 23---The hospital ship Britannic has been sunk
by a German submarine in the Aegean Sea. The story of the submarine
attack is told by The Daily Chronicle's Athens correspondent in the
following dispatch dated Tuesday:

"The British hospital ship Britannic has been torpedoed by a German
submarine. The latest enemy outrage against humanity occurred at 10
o'clock this morning.

"All my inquiries lead to the belief that two German submarines were
lying in wait in the narrow seas by the island of Kea with the express
object of sending the Britannic to the bottom. She was attacked from
both sides at once, each of the submarines launching a torpedo against
her. One of them missed its mark, but the other inflicted a fatal blow
on the ship.

Carried No Wounded

"This deliberate crime was all the worse because the submarine
commanders must have known the vessel was going north. This fact would
tell them she contained only the usual crew and complement of nurses,
doctors, and R. A. M. C. men, about 1,200 in all. But that did not
count with the foe. The Britannic was going to Mudros, the port of
Lemnos, in the centre of the Aegean Sea to take aboard sick and wounded
for whom she is fitted to carry 3,000.

"One of the survivors tells me the order aboard when she was struck was
perfect in every way. Thirty to forty of the crew were wounded by the
explosion. Nurses, in common with the officers and men of the R. A. M.
C., lined up on deck and there was not the slightest panic.

"It was impossible to launch all boats, although many got away. Several
survivors dropped into the sea with life belts on. The women, of course,
were saved first. They all behaved quite coolly.

"Wireless messages were sent in all directions for help. A number of
allied vessels, destroyers and sweepers, quickly arrived on the scene.
Among the rescue ships was one from the Piraeus. Happily the great
majority of the ship's company has been saved. The toll of human life is
reported to be about fifty-three and many injured. One of the
stewardesses was aboard the Titanic when that other huge liner went to
her doom. She told me a terrible story of the launching of the first of
the Britannic's boats near the stern and of the ship healing over with
her screw out of the water whirring around in the air.

"Two loaded boats were sucked toward the sinking vessel, smashing like
matchwood. Many were killed outright and others received terrible
wounds. Said the stewardess:

"'It really was worse than the Titanic.'

"Many survivors were landed at Phaleron, a well known Summer resort,
four miles from Athens, from which Venezelos set out on his famous
expedition a short time ago. Others were put ashore at the Piraeus, an
object lesson in German ruthlessness for Athenians. Still more were
brought aboard Allied ships to Kerathine, in the Gulf of Salamis."

Survivors to Join Another Ship

A later dispatch from the same correspondent, dated Wednesday, says:

"Sir Francis Elliott, British Minister at Athens, visited the wounded,
who have been taken to a Russian hospital. He also went to see some of
the survivors at Phaleron. After a day's leave to go to Athens to buy
necessary clothes, &c., those who are none the worse for their grim
adventure are to join another ship almost immediately."

"Two of the expelled Ministers had a strange encounter this morning with
some of the nurses who so narrowly escaped death in the Britannic. After
breakfast at the Actaeon Hotel at Phaleron, the nurses were all looking
out to sea from the terrace when the banished ministers passed, their
baggage in Greek army camions, on the way to Piraeus to make their exit
from country."

"The nurses watched them with keen interest and the Teuton
representatives could not help seeing the party of would-be victims of
the latest reminder of German barbarity."
Reports Fifty Lives Lost
LONDON, Thursday, Nov. 23---Fifty lives have been lost by the sinking of
the Britannic, according to an official statement issued here.

The accounts from various sources of the sea tragedy differ as to the
number on board the Britannic. One dispatch says there were 1,000
British sick and wounded on the ship, and the official statement given
out here, reports 1,106 survivors landed, including 28 who were injured.
Another dispatch states, on the contrary, that there were no wounded on
the Britannic, which, however, carried 121 nurses and 390 officers and
men of the army medical corps.

The Daily News's Athens correspondent sends the following:

"The Britannic was torpedoed at 8 o'clock in the morning and sank near
shore fifty-five minutes later. She was going to Saloniki, but had no
wounded on board.

"Her complement included 121 nurses and 390 officers and men of the.
Army Medical Corps. Twenty-five of the injured from the steamer are now
in the Russian hospital, while others are aboard allied warships.

"The islanders of Kea saw the vessel sinking and the victims struggling
in the waves and promptly responded to the appeals for help, and an
Anglo-French squadron from Piraeus, comprised of destroyers and
auxiliaries, immediately went to the rescue.

"The injuries of some of those on board are very severe, especially the
occupants of two boats which were caught by the propellors of the
steamer. The women of Kea tore up their clothing to bandage the injured.

"The Britannic had 3,000 beds, which had been prepared for the
reception of sick and wounded an hour prior to the torpedoing

An early account of the sinking, cabled from Athens, read:

"The White Star Line steamship Britannic, serving as a hospital ship
for wounded soldiers of the Entente Allies, has been torpedoed and sunk,
according to an official announcement made here today.

"The Britannic was sunk off the lsland of Kea. She carried 1,000 British
sick and wounded men.

"The Britannic was equipped with thirty-five lifeboats, and the loss of
life incident to the sinking was supposed to have been small."

Twenty-eight Survivors Injured

The British official statement says the vessel was "sunk by a mine or
torpedoed," and there were 1,106 survivors, of whom about twenty-eight
were injured.

Admiralty officials have little to add to the official announcement
except to state that the Britannic was sunk in the daytime. The
Admiralty is advised that many submarines were operating in the
vicinity. At the time of the sinking at least 200 severely wounded men
were on board the ship.

The medical staffs and the members of the crew numbered more than 500.

The smallness of the loss of life on board the Britannic is believed
here to have been due to the steamer's magnificent life-saving
equipment. She had a double bottom over five feet deep, divided into a
large number of compartments, and this system extended well above her
water line.

The ship carried the largest sized lifeboats ever fitted to an ocean
liner, two of them being equipped with powerful engines. They were
arranged in groups, leaving a large space for the marshaling of
passengers in case of disaster. The davits were built on a new
principle, so that the boats could be launched electrically on an even
keel even if the ship were badly listing. It was also possible to launch
all the boats from one side, if necessary.

The ship had sixteen transverse bulkheads, and six of the main
compartments could be flooded without affecting the stability of the

The Britannic was nearing completion at the outbreak of the war, when
she was requisitioned by the Government and converted into a hospital
ship. In company with the Mauretania and the Olympic, she was engaged in
bringing thousands of wounded men from the Gallipoli Peninsula soon
after the evacuation of the peninsula by the Allies.

Reported U-Boat Sowing Mines

A dispatch to The Daily Mail from Athens says:

"Admiral du Fournet, commander of the Franco-British fleet in the
Mediterranean announced Tuesday that two German mines had been found
adrift off Flava, southwest of Pireaus. He warned navigators that a
submarine apparently was sowing mines broadcast.

"The latest information suggests that the Greek steamer Sparti, which
was sunk Tuesday, struck a mine and was not torpedoed."
Special Cable to THE NEW YORK TIMES
LONDON, Thursday, Nov. 23---The publication today of the news of the
sinking of the Britannic created a sensation in London, where it was
regarded as the worst outrage of the kind committed by the Germans
during the war. The Daily Chronicle, after declaring that despite the
ambiguous wording of the Admiralty communiqué there seems to be no
doubt, in view of its Athens dispatch, that the Britannic was
deliberately torpedoed by a Teuton submarine, says:

"Those who calculate the seriousness of these crimes by their actual
results alone may think less of such a case than of the Lusitania, but
if wickedness is to be measured as it is reasonably to be expected, the
results of this crime must exceed even that ghastly massacre and take
rank at the very top of German achievements in infamy. Those of our
friends in America who have been suggesting that Germany has learned her
lesson and changed her bad heart for a better one will forgive us if in
view of such sustained and reiterated atracities [sic] we remain of a
different opinion."
Britannic Also Was the Largest British Vessel Afloat
The news of the loss of the White Star liner Britannic was received at
the New York Maritime Exchange at 1 o'clock yesterday and telephoned to
the office of the company at 9 Broadway, but up to a late hour last
night nothing had been received from the head office in Liverpool.

The Brittanic [sic] was taken at the beginning of the war as a hospital
ship, and after making three trips to the Dardanelles to bring back
wounded soldiers she was anchored for several months off Cowes, Isle of
Wight, as a naval hospital. At Christmas the Admiralty released the
vessel, and in March she was sent to Belfast to be fitted out for the
passenger trade between New York and Southampton. In June, however,
the vessel was taken again by the Admiralty as a hospital ship and was
anchored off Cows until a few weeks ago, when she was sent to Saloniki
to bring home wounded soldiers and sailors.

The Britannic was painted white, with a broad red band round her hull,
and big red crosses painted on her sides, fore and aft. At night she
hoisted a big cross between the first and second funnels, illuminated
with red electric lights, so that there could be no mistaking her for
anything but a hospital ship.

According to officials of the International Merchant [sic] Marine, the
Britannic was commanded by Captain C. A. Bartlett, formerly captain of
the Cedric, and she carried a crew of about 400 men, with 100 doctors
and 200 nurses and attendants. Under normal conditions in the passenger
trade the vessel would carry a crew of 1,000 men all told.

Henry Dyke was staff commander; Robert Hume, chief officer; Oliver,
first officer; Brocklebank, second officer; Fleming, chief engineer; C.
B. Lancaster, purser; Walter Jones, chief steward, and Stevens-Muir,
ship's surgeon.

The Britannic was launched at the Harland & Wolff shipyard in Belfast
Feb. 26, 1914, and was the largest British merchant vessel afloat. Her
keel was laid soon after the Titanic was sunk, and she was intended to
take the place of that craft. Shipping men remarked yesterday upon the
fact that neither vessel ever reached America. The Britannic was to have
gone into service in the Fall of 1914, but owing to the numerous strikes
in the shipyard and the labor trouble, which caused delay in getting
materials, it was put off to the Spring of 1915.

When the war started in August, 1914, the Britannic was taken over by
the Admiralty and fitted out to accommodate about 3,500 wounded and
sick. At that time her cabin fittings had not been installed, and there
was very little at all on board except the engines, funnels, masts, and
decks. On her first voyage the majority of the partitions on the upper
decks were made of canvas, which lasted until the carpenters had time on
the way out to Lemnos Bay to replace them with wooden bulkheads. She
was equipped with a double bottom and fifteen watertight bulkheads carried
from the keel to the bridge deck about sixty feet above the waterline,
which made it improbable, engineers said yesterday, for a mine to have
sunk her under ten or twelve hours, because the compartments would
have kept her afloat.

The Britannic was 885 feet long, 94 feet beam, 64 feet 3 inches depth of
hold, 48,158 gross tonnage, and 104 feet 6 inches from her keel to the
upper navigating bridge.

She had three propellers driven by two sets of reciprocating engines on
the port and starboard side, and a low-pressure turbine on the centre
shaft, which combined to give her an average speed of twenty-four knots
under full pressure of the twenty-nine boilers. The Britannic was 2,000
tons larger than the White Star liner Olympic, which is now carrying
troops from Canada, and 3,000 tons bigger than the Cunarder Aquitania,
now engaged as a hospital ship carrying wounded men from Saloniki.

The Britannic had ample lifeboat and life raft accommodation and had
davits which could launch three boats, one after another, which, it was
said, might have accounted for so many lives being saved.

The Britannic is the largest passenger liner that has been sunk since
the war began. The two next in size were the Cunarder Lusitania, 32,000
tons, and the White Star liner Arabic, 20,000 tons, which were

White Star officials said yesterday that it was understood that the
British Admiralty would repay the owners for the actual cost of any
vessel that was destroyed or wrecked while on Government service. The
cost of the Britannic would be somewhere near $7,500,000, but the loss of
her passenger and freight carrying capacity after the war would be
nearly treble that amount. The decorations and furnishings, carvings,
silk draperies, and costly wooden panels intended for the Britannic are
still at the Belfast shipyards intact
But None Aboard the Britannic Was from the Red Cross Here
Officials of the British Consulate said yesterday that it was possible
that there were several American surgeons and nurses on the Britannic,
because there was a dearth of medical men in Great Britain on account of
the demand for field service.

Several doctors and nurses who went over to England with the Harvard
units remained behind doing Red Cross work and many of the surgeons
accepted commissions in the Royal Army Medical Corps.

The Aquitania carried three American doctors and several nurses from
this country during the Dardanelles campaign. when she was a hospital
WASHINGTON, Nov. 22---At Red Cross Headquarters here today it was
stated that there were no American surgeons or nurses serving under Red
Cross direction on hospital ships in European waters. Their only workers
are several units, which are ashore. They pointed out that if there were
Americans aboard the Britannic they undoubtedly were volunteers who had
gone aboard on their own account.


Mark Baber

Jul 4, 2000
The New York Times, 25 November 1916

Second Hospital Ship Sunk in Aegean Sea;
Turks May Have Sunk the Britannic

LONDON, Nov. 24---The British hospital ship, Braemar Castle, of 6,280
gross tons, bound from Saloniki to Malta with wounded, has been mined or
torpedoed in the Aegean Sea, it was officially announced today. All
except one on board were saved. The disaster occurred in the Mykoni

A Reuter dispatch from Athens says the Braemar Castle was torpedoed.
LONDON, Nov. 24.--A dispatch to the Exchange Telegraph from Amsterdam

"According to an official Berlin telegram the German Admiral denies that
a German submarine sank the British hospital ship Britannic.

"The vessel is believed to have been sunk by one of the Turkish
submarines recently sold by Germany to the Turkish Admiralty.
BERLIN, Nov. 24---The Chief of the Naval Staff announces that the
British hospital ship Britannic was not sunk by a German submarine.
LONDON, Nov. 24.--A virtual disavowal that a German submarine had
anything to do with the sinking of the British hospital ship Britannic
In the Aegean Sea is contained in a wireless dispatch received today
from Berlin, which read as follows:

"According to the reports so far at hand the Britannic was proceeding
from England to Saloniki. For a journey in this direction the large
number of persons on board was extraordinarily striking and justifies
a strong suspicion of the misuse of a hospital ship for transport
purposes. Inasmuch as the ship bore the distinguishing marks of a
hospital ship in accordance with regulations, there can naturally be no
question of a German submarine in connection with the sinking."

With reference to this statement the Admiralty announces that the total
number on board the vessel has now been ascertained accurately. The
Britannic, the Admiralty says, had on board 1,125 persons, of who, 625
belonged to the crew and 500 belonged to the medical staff of the
various Royal Army Medical Corps ranks and ratings, including 76 nurses.
Special Cable to THE NEW YORK TIMES
LONDON, Saturday, Nov. 25---A dispatch to The Daily Chronicle from
Athens, dated Thursday, says of the Britannic:

"The ship, it is stated, was struck well forward on the starboard side,
the hatches of No. 2 hold being blown fifty feet up into the air and
the decks covered with splinters.

"Two of the survivors state that they saw the wake of two torpedoes
and the skipper has given out that he is convinced that the ship,
which conformed to all the regulations applying to hospital vessels, was

"It is reported that a German submarine a few days ago visited Larium
on the mainland opposite the Island of Kea, and that an officer went
ashore and took aboard a woman, who is believed to have been concerned
in supplying the German submarines."
Mykoni is an island in the Aegean Sea, about 100 miles from Piraeus, the
port of Athens. A comparatively narrow passage separates Mykoni from the
island of Tino, to the northwest.

It was said at the White Star Line offices last night that the sinking
of the Braemer [sic] Castle at a point comparatively close to the spot
where the Britannic went down probably strengthened the opinion in
London that both steamers might have been torpedoed. White Star
officials said they had received no information concerning the sinking
of the Britannic beyond the cable message Thursday from the main offices
of the company in London stating that the vessel had been sunk by a
mine. Reports that Thursday's message had come from the British
Admiralty were said to be erroneous.


Mark Baber

Jul 4, 2000
The New York Times, 24 November 1916

White Star Line Officials Get Official Report of Disaster---No Wounded
A cable was received yesterday by the White Star line from its London
office advising that the hospital ship Britannic was sunk by a mine. A
later message announced the safety of the ship's officers and placed the
total number of dead or missing at 24. The first message received was as

"Regret exceedingly to inform you Britannic sunk by mine in the Aegean
Sea. Loss of life will not exceed fifty."

This was supplemented by this message:

"Captain, all officers and engineers of Britannic saved; twenty-four
dead or missing."

The Information contained in the messages is said to have come from the
British Admiralty.
LONDON, Nov. 23---Press dispatches from Athens to the effect that
there were no wounded on board the hospital ship Britannic when she was
sunk off the Greek coast were confirmed today by the Admiralty, which
made the following announcement:

"No wounded were aboard the Britannic, on which there were only the
ship's crew and the hospital staff."


Mark Baber

Jul 4, 2000
The New York Times, 24 November 1916

Matron of the Britannic Describes Their Coolness in the Disaster
Special Cable to THE NEW YORK TIMES
LONDON, Nov. 23---The Daily Chronicle's Athens correspondent quotes the
matron of the Britannic, Miss E. A. Dowse, who carries many war medals
on her uniform---she went through the siege of Ladysmith---as follows:
"The ship had all the hospital marks, and was fitted up like the best
shore hospitals. It is impossible to understand why the ship was
attacked. We were bound for Mudros, and when the disaster occurred we
had everything ready to take the sick aboard there. I had with me
seventy-six nursing sisters, mostly belonging to Queen Alexandra's
nursing staff, together with four stewardesses. They are all English,
and happily all were saved. We had no patients aboard, excepting a few
of the staff, who were slightly ill. We were able to carry these on
deck and get them away.

"The explosion occurred when we were at breakfast. We heard something,
but had no idea the ship had been hit or was going down. Without alarm
we went on deck and awaited the launching of the boats. The whole staff
behaved most splendidly, waiting calmly lined up on deck. We were two
hours in the boats. The Germans, however, could not have chosen a better
time for giving us an opportunity to save those aboard, for we had all
risen. We were near land, and the sea was perfectly smooth."

The sinking of the Britannic was attended by cool heroism and by a
scene of bravery which will not quickly perish from the story of the
great war.

"I know a woman can be brave," said one Royal Army Medical Corps
officer, "but I never dreamed they could show such heights of cool,
unflinching courage as those nurses did when under Miss Dowse, the
matron, they lined up on deck like so many soldiers and unconcernedly
and calmly waited their turn to enter the boats. We men are proud of
them and can only hope that England will hear of their courage. They
were magnificent."

The young women displayed remarkable devotion to duty. After the cool
fashion in which they looked into the face of death when the terrible
day was over, a number of them went cheerily to the Russian hospital and
remained on duty all night. In the morning they were bright and lively
and went sightseeing in Athens.

"Look," said one, "I've got a souvenir. I was using this fork at
breakfast when the explosion occurred and I put it in my pocket."

There were some Boy Scouts aboard, employed as messengers. The purser
tells a good story of the conduct of one of these. When the ship was
struck the boy came up, saluted, and asked if he could do anything.

"Yes,'" said the purser, "just wait awhile. I shall want you in a few
minutes." The boy stood at his post ten minutes, while the vessel was
steadily sinking, and then when the purser gave him his orders he went
off with the remark: "It has been a big explosion, Sir, but I don't
think it did us much harm."

Tribute is due, too, to the coolness of the purser himself. He saved all
the papers on the ship, and when everything had been done he calmly went
back to his cabin and put on a clean collar. "I wish," he said later,
lamenting a new suit which he lost, "I also had changed my clothes. I
had seven minutes, and I could have done it." Evidence gathers that the
disaster was due to a submarine, the correspondent adds. Islanders say
they saw a submarine near the shore.


Mark Baber

Jul 4, 2000
The New York Times, 4 December 1916

British Admiralty Statement in Answer to German Reports
LONDON, Dec. 3---A statement issued by the Admiralty tonight which makes
reference to German wireless messages to the embassy at Washington,
promulgating "mendacious reports purporting to emanate from Rotterdam
that the hospital ship Britannic had troops on board."

The Admiralty reiterates that a complete statement of all persons aboard
the Britannic was published on Nov. 24, and adds that British hospital
ships carry neither personnel nor material other than is authorized by
the Geneva and The Hague conventions.
BERLIN, Dec. 3 (by Wireless to Sayville)---The Overseas News Agency
gives out the following:

"Rotterdam reports, according to information from London, that the
British hospital ship Britannic, recently sunk, had from 400 to 500
soldiers on board, who neither belonged to the crew nor the Red Cross.
In addition there were more than 100 officers, among whom were
several aviators, on board."
The British hospital ship Britannic was sunk in the Aegean Sea on Nov.
22. [sic] Inquiries failed to establish whether she was destroyed by
mines or torpedoes. According to the British Admiralty statement the
Britannic had on board 1,125 persons of whom 625 composed the crew and
500 were attached to the medical staff of the various Royal Army Medical
Corps including seventy-six nurses. About fifty persons perished.


Mark Baber

Jul 4, 2000
Today's---yesterday's actually; sorry for the delay---News from 1916 already appears on this message board. Look here.

Mark Baber

Jul 4, 2000
[MAB Note: This concludes the reporting in The New York Times of
Britannic's destruction.]

The New York Times, 28 January 1917

Hospital Ship Britannic Survivors Say Propellers Killed 45 Men
Several survivors of the hospital ship Britannic, which was sunk in the
Aegean Sea, were among the crew of the Adriatic, which arrived here
yesterday, and were positive that she was torpedoed by a German
submarine and not mined, as stated in the English newspapers.

They also said that forty-five members of the crew were drowned or
killed by the propellers through the engines being put full speed ahead
after she was hit in an endeavor to beach the ship in shallow water.

A. W. Breed, second steward on the Adriatic, held a similar position on
the White Star liner Arabic when she was torpedoed in August, 1915,
and also on the Britannic a few weeks ago. He said that he preferred the
Aegean Sea because it was so much warmer to swim in.

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