Due to the recent events surrounding the Titanic (namely the story of the submersible Titan, and the tragic loss of life tied to her), I’ve found myself thinking quite a lot about the Titanic herself. There are so many sad tales relating to the infamous cruise liner, and it seems that tragedy follows not only the Titanic’s legacy, but also that of her owners, White Star Line. The Titanic had sister ships, the Britannic and the Olympic, all forming the Olympic Class, and of them, only Olympic survived a reasonable number of years.
Titanic’s story is world-famous, and represents a combination of hubris, human error, and horrific bad luck. Britannic was launched in 1914, two years after Titanic’s launch. She spent a fair time in dock, being revised for safety purposes (for obvious reasons), but with the onset of World War I, Britannic never saw service as a luxury passenger liner. Instead, she was refitted to serve as a hospital ship. She was relaunched in December 1915, and spent a fair bit of time sailing alongside Olympic (which served as a troopship). Olympic herself had been involved in a contentious collision back in September 2011, when she and the Royal Navy cruiser HMS Hawke crashed into each other. Olympic actually came off better, but the incident cost White Star Line a small fortune, as the powers-that-be ruled the accident to be the fault of Olympic.
Britannic operated until she struck a mine (or was possibly torpedoed, though some researchers believe a mine is more likely) on the 21st of November, 1916. The ship was damaged, taking on water, and the crew were forced to evacuate. It was after only ten minutes that Britannic was in a similar state to what the Titanic had been after an hour. She took 55 minutes to completely disappear below the waves of the Aegean Sea.
In what may be considered fate by some, a nurse by the name of Violet Jessop, who had been one of the survivors of the Titanic, and earlier had been aboard Olympic when she collided with Hawke, was present to describe Britannic’s final moments:
“She dipped her head a little, then a little lower and still lower. All the deck machinery fell into the sea like a child’s toys. Then she took a fearful plunge, her stern rearing hundreds of feet into the air until with a final roar, she disappeared into the depths, the noise of her going resounding through the water with undreamt-of violence….”
Thus, Britannic became the largest ship lost during World War I. Owing to a number of factors (the warmer waters of the Aegean, more lifeboats, and the closer availability of help) only 30 out of 1,066 aboard Britannic perished.
In some respects, White Star Line have had a long and terrible history of loss. The original company to bear the name lost the Tayleur on her maiden voyage in 1854, with tremendous loss of life. The Atlantic sank on the 1st of April 1873, after striking rocks off the coast of Nova Scotia. In January 1909, the Republic sank following a collision. It seems White Star were cursed; they must have felt that way.