"Report of a Formal Investigation into the Sinking of the HMHS Britannic"

Jan 5, 2001
2,299
97
178
Britannic enthusiasts’ reconstruction of 1916 enquiry into her sinking, including only November 1916 accounts, Not later accounts.

A more detailed report… It’s incomplete… Contributions welcome.

What was the speed of the Britannic shortly before and at the moment of the casualty? Was such speed excessive under the circumstances?

The speed was around 20 knots, the maximum speed permissible for operation in coastal waters, which was not excessive.

What was the nature of the casualty which happened to the Britannic at or about 8 a.m. on November 21st 1916?

An explosion occurred on the starboard bow, causing the vessel to move three points to port. Holds 2 and 3 flooded immediately, while hold 1 began flooding either through the firemen’s tunnel or the bulkhead leading to number 2 hold. The watertight door to the firemen’s tunnel leading to number 6 boiler room did not close, causing this space to flood, while the watertight door to boiler room 5 partly closed, allowing water to flood into this space. The vessel was designed to float with such damage.

What steps were taken immediately on the happening of the casualty? How long after the casualty was its seriousness realised by those in charge of the vessel? What steps were then taken? What endeavours were made to save the lives of those on board and to prevent the vessel from sinking?

Captain Bartlett ordered the engines stopped, all lifeboats made ready for lowering, the wireless to send a distress call, the watertight doors closed, the alarm sounded on all quarters and requested a report of the damage.

When he knew of the damage, Bartlett believed the ship could be moved without further flooding and using the engines turned the ship to head for the shore, then ordered ‘full ahead.’

Following two lifeboats being lowered without permission, they were drawn into the port propeller and the occupants killed. At this time the engines were being stopped, and they stopped just in time to prevent further casualties.

At 8.45 a.m. it was decided to try and beach the ship again, which was acted upon, as it was realized that the flooding was progressing.

Was proper discipline maintained on board after the casualty occurred?

Yes; with the exception of a small group of firemen who commandeered a lifeboat and a group of stewards who at one point threatened to rush some of the boats.

What messages for assistance were sent by the Britannic after the casualty, and at what times, respectively? Were any vessels prevented from going to the assistance of the Britannic or her boats owing to messages received from the Britannic or owing to any erroneous messages being sent or received? In regard to such erroneous messages, from what vessels were they sent and by what vessels were they received, and at what times, respectively?

Britannic signaled: ‘SOS Have struck mine off Point Nikolo (sic).’ As far as can be determined, no vessels were prevented from assisting, notwithstanding the current rumour that a German submarine ‘blocked’ her distress signals in some manner, which is highly improbable considering such submarine equipment.

Was the apparatus for lowering the boats on the Britannic at the time of the casualty in good working order? Were the boats swung out, filled, lowered, or otherwise put into the water and got away under proper superintendence? Were the boats sent away in seaworthy condition and properly manned, equipped, and provisioned? Did the boats, whether those under davits or otherwise, prove to be efficient and serviceable for the purpose of saving life?

How many persons on board the Britannic at the time of the casualty were ultimately rescued and by what means?

What happened to the vessel from the happening of the casualty until she foundered?

Where and at what time did the Britannic founder?

Approximately 3 miles off Port St Nikolo light, bearing North 48° West.

What was the cause of the loss of the Britannic, and of the loss of life which thereby ensued or occurred? What vessels had the opportunity of rendering, assistance to the Britannic; and if any, how was it that assistance did not reach the Britannic before the Scourge and Heroic arrived?
 
Dec 2, 2000
58,588
378
283
Easley South Carolina
I don't suppose the genuine artical is available somewhere? The report anyway? It would be interesting to see what conclusions were made by whatever body investigated.

Maybe too much to hope for, but it never hurts to ask.

Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 
Jan 5, 2001
2,299
97
178
Michael,

I've got a copy of the original report, assisted by Simon Mills, but all it does is state everything we know in books - the damage extent, porthole flooding.

Best regards,

Mark.
 

Remco Hillen

Member
Jan 6, 2001
322
0
146
I know that this is not the correct place to post it, but I can't access other parts of the messageboard(I entered this thread through the Nomadic link at the homepage).
Does anyway have any idea why...?

Regards,
Remco
 
Jan 5, 2001
2,299
97
178
Remco,

I am having the same trouble. It's only through my e-mail from this that I can get in.

Best regards,

Mark.
 
M

Mirriam Wood

Guest
We're all experiencing same.
It's just Murphy's Law at work!

Mirriam
 
Jan 5, 2001
2,299
97
178
Oh, really...

I start a thread, the message board breaks down and Murphy starts attacking my e-mail as well...

Seriously... some Britannic information should follow.
 
Dec 2, 2000
58,588
378
283
Easley South Carolina
Hi Mark...I'm having the same board problem and came in through the same side door that Remco did. Bloody aggravating if you ask me. I hope it's fixed soon.

In regards Britannic, I've had Simon Mills book on order from THS for 4 months now and they haven't coughed it up yet. Looks like I might have to query them about it.

Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 
Jan 5, 2001
2,299
97
178
Mike,

I've had some mags on order for ages also; I think they're just inundated.

I'll post a report summary during next week or more. When the forum's proper.

Mark.
 
Dec 4, 2000
3,239
483
213
The mention of the firemen's passage in the Britannic report is quite curious.

If an Olympic-class ship is holed at the base of the stair tower...and if the accident involves enough racking of the hull to prevent the automatic WT doors from sliding shut...one single, solitary hole will sink the ship.

I believe this is what happened not once, but twice: Titanic and Britannic. A single hole beneath the base of the firemen's stair tower caused flooding of holds #1 and #2. It also flooded the stair tower and passage. Water rising int he stair tower spilled into the spaces above hold #1. Water moving aft in the firemen's passage flooded hold #3 through the bunker doors and boiler room #6 through imcompletely closed WT doors. This means that a single hole has flooded four of the first five compartments.

Secondary flooding through open ports was undoubtedly a factor in the final flooding of Britannic, but probably had nothing to do with the actual loss of the ship. By the time those ports and scuttles began taking water, the fat lady had finished Britannic's swan song. The ship was alaready lost. Open ports were undoubtedly given more credence than necessary in order to reduce the apparent effectiveness of German anti-ship mines. Part of warfare is giving your enemy false information about the effectiveness of his weapons. By blaming open ports, the British made it sound as if the mine (torpedo?) was not as effective as it was.

--David G. Brown
 

Remco Hillen

Member
Jan 6, 2001
322
0
146
David,

Boilerroom 5 was also flooded, the door between boilerroom 6 and 5 failed to close correctly.

The explosion was quite a powerful one, the bow of the ship was even lifted 'out of the water' a bit and air escaping the ship through hatches/portholes etc could be heared.
Bartlett also said that the ship vibrated during the sinking.
On the wreck, the keel is just missing in the particular area.
That's quite some damage...

In theory she could have survived with the first 5 comp. open to sea.
In theory...

There's more about this in 'Introduce Yourself'-->Mark Chirnside.

Sorry for the short post.

Regards,
Remco
 
Dec 4, 2000
3,239
483
213
Remco-- you are right about the flooding of Britannic extending into boiler room #5. I did not go that far just to keep the parallels between Titanic and Britannic in focus.

It is usually overlooked that for Britannic's firemen's tunnel to have flooded either boiler room it was necessary for two automatic WT doors to have failed, not one. The firemen's passage ended in a small vestibule that was closed by an automatic WT Door to the passage. Another door just a few feet aft closed the vestibule to boiler room #6. Two more manual WT doors gave access to the bunkers on the port and starboard sides of hold #3 (on either side of the passage). A fifth opening in the vestibule was an escape trunk.

From what I have learned, the tracks for H&W vertical sliding WT doors were not one-piece castings. Rather they were assembled from pieces on the ship. This meant that racking forces (from running over an iceberg, or from exploding ordnance) could easily have caused the sliding doors to jam at some position less than fully closed. This is apparently borne out by exploration of Britannic as it lies on the bottom (if web sites can be believed). At least one door has reportedly been seen to be only partially closed.

--David G. Brown
 
Jan 5, 2001
2,299
97
178
Secondary flooding through open ports was undoubtedly a factor in the final flooding of Britannic, but probably had nothing to do with the actual loss of the ship. By the time those ports and scuttles began taking water, the fat lady had finished Britannic's swan song. The ship was alaready lost. Open ports were undoubtedly given more credence than necessary in order to reduce the apparent effectiveness of German anti-ship mines. Part of warfare is giving your enemy false information about the effectiveness of his weapons. By blaming open ports, the British made it sound as if the mine (torpedo?) was not as effective as it was.

1. I can't agree that open portholes or scuttles did have nothing to do with the actual loss of the ship. Although some of the damage further forward is disputed by some Britannic historians (i.e., the forepeak and hold 1), it was clear from the original enquiry report that no water penetrated abaft the B-deck bulkhead between boiler room 5 and 4; this was one of the points they were most clear about. Water did enter boiler room 5 because the door between that and boiler room 6 did actually do a reasonable job of closing, but didn't quite close enough (in any case, if the five compartments forward of boiler 5 flooded, then boiler 5 would have flooded over the top of the E-deck bulkhead between that and boiler room 6).

2. However, the fact that the watertight door between boiler rooms 6 and 5 partly closed indicates we are progressing further away from the explosion's damage; and that the watertight door in the next bulkhead sealing boiler room 4 and the rest of the ship closed completely, along with the others aft of that as the report seems to imply, indicates the forward six compartments flooded...

3. Britannic was designed to float with the forward six compartments flooded, although the forecastle would be submerged to the forward end of B-deck; the only problem to my mind was the open scuttles on F deck and ports on E-deck, which let water not only into the forward six flooding compartments, but also the undamaged compartments aft of them.

4. I believe, aside from the starboard explosion damage being the prime cause of the list, that the subsequent water on E-deck, for example, of course remained on the starboard side but seeped below decks gradually, and as the portholes went further under and water pressure increased, with the ship listing 20 degrees or so to starboard the water will of course accumulate there and perhaps worsen the list.

5. Diver John Chatterton (from memory) gave a report which seemed to indicate that the foremost watertight door between the firemen's tunnel and boiler room 6 was open 1.5 feet, a gap of, say, 4.5 square feet; yet the next door must have been open somewhat as well, as the forward boiler room flooded so quickly that the firemen had to abandon it within 'one or two minutes'. Perhaps a little longer, but we did get Britannic settling rapidly.

6. I believe the forepeak was dry until water came in through the forecastle opening an anchors; about 8.55 a.m.

7. As we know the engines were re-started at 8.45 a.m. as Captain Bartlett still believed the ship could be beached, I believe that the foredecks were still above water, otherwise it would be obvious he was driving the ship underwater. This tells us that the forward six watertight compartments still weren't completely flooded, but it would be good for further research to tell us the effect of water accumuating, for example, along E-deck starboard/forward.

8. The forepeak would give a little buoyancy, but would that be enough to hold the bow above water if the other five forward compartments were flooded completely? I believe that boiler room 5 flooded at a slower rate than boiler room 6, but the fact that the forward boiler room had to be abandoned so quickly is testimony to severe flooding. To be exact the report quoted (from memory):

[hr]
Quote:

'there seems to have been a period from 1 to 2 minutes until the water was too deep for work to be performed' in the forward boiler room.
[hr]​

9. A key point is further damage caused by the bow's lifting following the explosion; accompanied by severe vibration through the ship which smashed crockery in the F-deck dining room amidships and sent waiter's trays to the floor and made all the nurses stand-up in immediate panic before Major Priestly took control of the situation. According to a theory following the Cousteau expedition, the bell on the foremast (forecastle bell) was probably shaken-off by the force.

I'll be busy for some time, but will try and get back and post the report summary soon.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Alexey
Dec 4, 2000
3,239
483
213
Mark -- excellent summary of the damage. I did not mean that secondary flooding was not critical to the rapid loss of the ship. Obviously, water coming through those open ports, scuttles, etc. did hasten the ship's demise. My point is that from the description of the primary battle damage, the ship was already doomed even if she had been battened down fore 'n aft.

Secondary flooding is the typical cause of the loss of a ship that is damaged, then floats for some extended period of time before sinking. The final flooding that "did in" Titanic was undoubtedly secondary flooding through the many openings in that hull.

I believe, however, that in both Britannic and Titanic the real problem is a design flaw -- the firemen's passage and stair tower. This gives water access to the entire bow in accidents where the bottom is compromised and racking damage prevents the complete closing of the doors in the firemen's vestibule.

As an aside, I am somewhat surprised that 2/3 of the Olympic class ships were able to find a way to create exactly the damage that would sink them. What are the odds?

--David G. Brown
 
Jul 10, 2005
676
0
86
Does anyone know whatever happened to the orignal luxurys that Britannic was fitted out with before she became a hospital ship???

Thank you

Beverly