R.M.S. Britannic , the last of the White Star Lines "Olympic class" liners was launched on the 26th of February 1914 , at the Harland and Wolff shipyard Belfast . Work began the next day in fitting her out as a luxurious transatlantic liner. In August 1914 , before Britannic could commence her transatlantic service ( Southampton to New York ), world war one began. Immediately , all shipyards with admiralty contracts were given top priority to use all available raw materials. All civil contracts ( including the Britannic ) were slowed down .
The war office requisitioned a large number of ships as armed merchant cruisers or for troop transport. The admiralty paid the shipping lines for the use of their vessels , but the risk of loosing these ships was high . However , the huge ocean liners were not pressed into naval duties as the smaller vessels were much easier to operate . The White Star Line decided to withdraw R.M.S. Olympic from service until the danger had passed , Olympic returned to Belfast on the 3rd of November 1914 , while work on her new sister continued slowly. All this would change in 1915. Britannic completed her engine trials in May of 1915 and as the war was progressing she was given just four weeks to be made ready for war service . The same month also saw the first major loss of a Cunard liner . The R.M.S. Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk off the Irish coast by German submarine SM U-20.
The British admiralty then decided to use recently requisitioned liners as troopships during the Gallipoli campaign , this ensured the maximum amount of troops to be placed in one port to relieve the battered and torn front lines. The first to sail were Cunard's Mauritania and Aquitania. As the Gallipoli campaign was not going well , the casualty count was mounting , the need for large hospital ships for treatment and evacuation of the wounded became evident. R.M.S. Aquitania was diverted to hospital duties in August 1915 and her job of troop carrying was given to White Star Lines Olympic . On the 13th of November 1915 Britannic was requisitioned as a hospital ship , she was taken from her storage berth in Belfast back to the fitting out dock , where upon her beautiful fittings were removed ( for the duration of the war ) and she was repaint ... white with large red crosses and a horizontal green stripe , the internationally recognised colours of a hospital vessel . She was re-named H.M.H.S. ( His Majesty's hospital ship ) Britannic , and placed under the command of Captain Charles A. Bartlett .
After completing five successful voyages to the various battlegrounds and back the Britannic departed Southampton for Lemnos on the 12th of November 1916. She passed Gibraltar around midnight on the 15th and arrived in Naples on the morning of the 17th for her usual re-coaling and water re-filling stop , thus completing the first stage of the mission . She was delayed briefly due to storms but Britannic sailed the following day and passed the Stait of Messina with no problems . By the next morning she was steaming full speed into the Kea Channel , between Cape Sounion and the Island of Kea . At 08.12am on Tuesday 21st of November 1916 , a loud explosion rocked the ship, the cause ... whether it was a torpedo or a mine was not apparent. Captain Bartlett and Chief Officer Hume were on the bridge at the time of impact and the gravity of the situation was soon evident.
Bartlett closed the watertight doors , sent a distress signal and ordered the crew to prepare the lifeboats . Unfortunately , another surprise was waiting , along with a damaged watertight door in the fireman's tunnel , the watertight door between boiler rooms five and six had also failed . She could stay afloat ( motionless ) with six of her compartments flooded , however there was one more thing that probably sealed the fate of the Britannic ... the open portholes of the lower decks . The nurses had opened most of the portholes to allow ventilation into the wards whilst sailing in the heat of the Mediterranean sea , when the ship listed the sea water just poured through the portholes and filled the decks with dead weight . Now with more than her six compartments flooded Britannic could not stay afloat.
She quickly developed a serious list to starboard . The Island of Kea was only three miles away so Bartlett decided to make a last desperate effort to beach the ship . In the meantime some of the lifeboats were being lowered , but as the propellers were still turning , orders were given " No lifeboats are to be launched ! " , at 08.30am two lifeboats were lowered without permission from the bridge , those two boats dropped over six feet and hit the water violently. They then drifted into the turning props and were reduced to splinters . The Captain finally conceded that the great liner was doomed and was not going to reach Kea in time so he gave the order to stop all engines and to lower the boats. At 08.35am he gave the order to abandon ship .
The list now made it impossible to launch any lifeboats on the starboard side and the water was coming up over the bow. At 09.00am Bartlett sounded one last blast on the ships whistle , then just walked calmly into the water which had already reached the bridge . The Britannic rolled over onto her starboard side and the giant funnels began collapsing . Then she took a fearful plunge , her stern rearing hundreds of feet in the air ... until with a final roar , she disappeared into the depths . It was 09.07am , only 55 minutes after the explosion .