The New York Times, 23 November 1916
HOSPITAL SHIP BRITANNIC SUNK; 50 LIVES LOST
Giant White Star Liner Torpedoed Off Island of Kea, in Aegean Sea
1,106 SURVIVORS LANDED
Two Submarines at Once Attack the Ship and Islanders Hurry to the
GOES DOWN IN 55 MINUTES
Vessel Was the Titanic's Successor and the Largest British Passenger
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
"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
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
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 communiquÃ© 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
WAS THE TITANIC'S SUCCESSOR
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,
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
MAY HAVE HAD AMERICANS
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.